CLAIM: A “Bill Gates factory that produces lab-grown synthetic meat” burned down in the Netherlands.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. While a distribution center operated by a Dutch online grocery service was destroyed in a fire in the eastern Netherlands, the facility was not a factory that produced meat alternatives, nor was it owned or operated by Gates. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust invested in the e-grocer in 2021, but the trust is not a controlling shareholder.
THE FACTS: As video spread widely online Monday of flames engulfing the building operated by the e-grocery company Picnic, false claims began to circulate misrepresenting the use of the facility and its connection to billionaire philanthropist Gates.
“Bill Gates factory that produces lab-grown synthetic meat burns down in the Netherlands,” read the caption on one video of the blaze that was posted to Facebook and viewed more than 12,000 times.
A similar false claim was repeated on Twitter, where one user shared a video of another angle of the fire, writing, “Bill Gates factory that makes synthetic lab grown meat goes up in flames.” The post received more than 7,000 shares and nearly 20,000 likes by Tuesday.
But both posts mischaracterize Gates’ relationship to the company and misidentify what the building was used for.
The facility that burned down on Sunday night was a distribution center operated by Picnic, a Dutch online grocery service founded in 2015 that allows users to order groceries using a mobile app and have them delivered.
The building was not a factory that produced meat alternatives and was not used for any kind of production, Martijn Koolhoven, a public relations official representing Picnic, told The Associated Press in an email. The center that caught fire was used to load orders onto electric trucks for delivery, he added, calling the recent claims “false.” He said there was no production of any kind at the site “let alone of meat.”
Picnic in 2021 raised 600 million euros to expand its operations across Europe, according to a news release from the company. A large portion of that funding came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, Koolhoven said, adding that the trust was one investor among “many other existing shareholders” that contributed to the financing.
The trust, which invests and manages money, is separate from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic arm. The trust states on its website that its investment decisions are made by an outside team of managers.
“The endowment that funds the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is independently managed by a separate entity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust,” according to an email statement from Cascade Investment, which oversees the Foundation Trust. “Foundation staff have no influence on Trust investment decisions, and no visibility into the Trust’s investment strategies.”
And while the trust acquired a minority stake in Picnic through its investment, it “is not a controlling shareholder,” Koolhoven clarified. Neither Gates, nor the trust, own or operate Picnic.
Fire crews in Almelo responded to the “very large” blaze at the distribution center late Sunday, according to a statement in Dutch from the local fire brigade. Officials said the fire completely destroyed the building, but no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire was not yet known and was still being investigated, according to the agency’s statement.
The false claims about the blaze emerged amid ongoing protests by thousands of farmers in the Netherlands, demonstrating against the government’s plans to slash emissions that livestock produce in their waste. During the demonstrations, some protesters blocked supermarket distribution centers, including separate ones operated by Picnic, Koolhoven added.