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Alt-Protein: Eating away climate change?

An EUobserver magazine exploring the transition to a more climate-friendly diet.

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MAGAZINE<br />

01<br />

23<br />

Healthy people, healthy<br />

landscapes: a look into<br />

local food systems<br />

Interview:<br />

Andy Zynga,<br />

CEO of EIT Food<br />

The plant-based meat<br />

market is starting to<br />

sizzle in Europe<br />

Why your next meat<br />

dish may have been<br />

nowhere near an animal<br />

<strong>Alt</strong>-<strong>Protein</strong>:<br />

<strong>Eating</strong> <strong>away</strong> <strong>climate</strong> <strong>change</strong>?<br />

AN EUOBSERVER MAGAZINE EXPLORING THE TRANSITION TO A MORE CLIMATE-FRIENDLY DIET


Editor’s<br />

introduction<br />

BY ALEJANDRO TAUBER<br />

Just a few years ago, before the world moved on to talk<br />

seemingly exclusively about AI, the prevailing hype<br />

centred around the potential of alternative proteins –<br />

that is, proteins produced from sources other than livestock.<br />

AD<br />

Companies producing meat alternatives<br />

from plants, fungi and insects sprouted<br />

all over the globe, attracting both consumer<br />

and investor interest.<br />

The idea fits in nicely with a rapidly-growing<br />

world population needing<br />

both more protein and less reliance on<br />

animals to remain within our planetary<br />

ecological boundaries.<br />

People stuck at home during the first<br />

year of the Covid pandemic (ironically<br />

enough, caused in part by our reliance<br />

on animal meat) were eager to try out<br />

new things to cook at home, driving<br />

sales of alternative meat products up 60<br />

percent in Germany, for example.<br />

Lately, in the past year or so, the hype<br />

seems to have died down, even as the<br />

variety of alternative protein products<br />

in supermarkets has expanded, and<br />

startups that didn’t exist just a few years<br />

are opening industrial-scale facilities.<br />

And that’s a shame. Food production<br />

accounts for about 34 percent of global<br />

greenhouse emissions, mainly caused<br />

by livestock and the feed required to<br />

raise them. In a report on alternative<br />

proteins, the Good Food Institute<br />

states that “today’s protein production<br />

systems are the single largest anthropogenic<br />

use of land and driver of deforestation.”<br />

On top of that, rising food prices and<br />

food-security issues resulting from<br />

geopolitical tensions and Russia’s war<br />

on Ukraine have shown that the EU is<br />

vulnerable when it comes to providing<br />

for itself and its citizens.<br />

While not a panacea, alternative proteins<br />

could provide a more sustainable<br />

and less vulnerable source of food for<br />

countries by both reducing demand on<br />

inputs and localising production.<br />

Which is why we’re dedicating this issue<br />

of the EUobserver magazine to alternative<br />

proteins, to show the status quo in<br />

2023, the hurdles we need to tackle, and<br />

the future opportunities for the EU and<br />

the world. Let’s keep up the hype.<br />

3


TABLE OF CONTENTS<br />

EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

In this issue<br />

6<br />

10<br />

14<br />

30<br />

34<br />

38<br />

Mycelium food and<br />

EU regulation<br />

Healthy people, healthy<br />

landscapes: a look into<br />

local food systems<br />

Plants get boost from<br />

new food security<br />

worries<br />

After the alt–protein<br />

hype: a venture<br />

capitalist’s perspective<br />

The plant-based meat<br />

market is starting to<br />

sizzle in Europe<br />

Fermenting<br />

a revolution<br />

18<br />

22<br />

26<br />

42<br />

Novel food — from<br />

safety checks to grocery<br />

shelves<br />

INTERVIEW:<br />

Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT<br />

Food<br />

How ‘Big Meat’ lobbies<br />

Brussels to keep<br />

carnivore status quo<br />

Why your next meat dish<br />

may have been nowhere<br />

near an animal<br />

5


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

The race for single-cell proteins<br />

during the Cold War involved both<br />

the USSR and the CIA<br />

Source: iStockphoto<br />

Mycelium<br />

food and EU<br />

regulation<br />

In the 1960s, among fears of the so-called ‘protein gap’ –<br />

the idea that a growing global population would need an<br />

unsustainable amount of protein production to avoid<br />

malnutrition – researchers at British Petroleum made a<br />

remarkable discovery.<br />

By ALEJANDRO TAUBER


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

A byproduct of the refinery process, waxy<br />

n-paraffins, could be fed to a certain type<br />

of yeast, and produce single-cell proteins<br />

(SCP). The discovery was dubbed<br />

‘food from oil’, unappetising as that may<br />

sound for us now, and was hailed by UN-<br />

ESCO as raising “the distinct possibility<br />

of microbe ranches of the near future —<br />

vast oil refineries — in which technicians<br />

would raise protein foods, as do farmers<br />

and cattlemen today.”<br />

Alfred Champagnat, the researcher who<br />

pioneered the discovery, was later awarded<br />

the UNESCO Science Prize in 1976.<br />

The proteins produced from oil never<br />

caught on for human consumption, but<br />

plants producing animal feed supplements<br />

from SCPs were built across the<br />

globe – most notably in the USSR, with<br />

the CIA releasing a top secret report in<br />

1977 on Soviet capabilities in producing<br />

SCP to supplement their lack of quality<br />

animal feed.<br />

Around the same time, a more commonly-known<br />

product was created: Quorn.<br />

The meat-replacement product was developed<br />

in the UK by a joint venture between<br />

a chemical and food company in<br />

the late 1960s. After a 10-year evaluation<br />

process, its mycoprotein – a protein derived<br />

from fungi – was finally approved<br />

for human consumption in 1985.<br />

Why is this relevant? Both yeasts and the<br />

strain of mould used to produce Quorn<br />

are part of the fungi family. And the application<br />

of the fungi family in food, and<br />

most importantly, protein production,<br />

has seen a surge of renewed interest over<br />

the past decade.<br />

As part of the ‘alt-protein’ or ‘alternative<br />

to proteins produced by livestock’ industry,<br />

fungus takes a bit of a special place.<br />

While many alt-proteins rely on processing<br />

protein-rich plants such as soy<br />

to produce meat-like products, fungi are<br />

not plants – in fact, genetically they’re<br />

more akin to animals than plants.<br />

In nature, fungi act as mediators of<br />

Humans have used these<br />

metabolic capabilities for<br />

thousands of years, in the<br />

production of bread, cheese,<br />

soy sauce and alcohol, and<br />

have eaten the fruiting<br />

bodies for as far back as<br />

fossil records go.<br />

waste. They break down organic matter,<br />

i.e. dead things, to grow, and in the<br />

process release back nutrients from the<br />

deceased matter into the soil.<br />

Humans have used these metabolic capabilities<br />

for thousands of years, in the<br />

production of bread, cheese, soy sauce<br />

and alcohol, and have eaten the fruiting<br />

bodies (‘mushrooms’ for non-mycologists)<br />

for as far back as fossil records go.<br />

But for about a decade, interest in mycelium<br />

– the ‘roots’ of the fungus that grow<br />

beneath the surface in vast networks –<br />

has surged. By growing the mycelium on<br />

a specific substrate, and closely managing<br />

the nutrient and oxygen supplies, the<br />

structural properties of the final product<br />

can be tweaked to resemble materials like<br />

leather, or food like meat.<br />

Starting in 2017, a surge of new startups<br />

focusing on making use of fungi saw<br />

the light of day. In the food space, they<br />

mostly aimed at ‘disrupting’ the meat industry,<br />

by producing protein for human<br />

and animal consumption – this time not<br />

driven by the fears of a protein crunch,<br />

but by the potential of creating protein<br />

more efficiently than by raising livestock.<br />

Interestingly, despite strict regulation<br />

of novel foods, Europe has been leading<br />

the pack when it comes to startups in<br />

the fungi industry. The continent counts<br />

double the number of startups using fungus<br />

compared with the United States.<br />

European multinationals have taken notice<br />

as well. Brewers like Bitburger are<br />

actively working with startups that make<br />

use of side-streams of the brewing process<br />

as a substrate for mycelium, while<br />

Unilever has partnered with Scottish<br />

startup Enough to incorporate a mycoprotein<br />

into some of their alternative<br />

meat products.<br />

Academic institutions researching mycelium<br />

for human consumption are<br />

also highly represented in Europe. Researchers<br />

at the Justus Liebig University<br />

in Gießen, Germany have been sifting<br />

through more than 500 species of fungi<br />

to determine their potential for producing<br />

food for human consumption.<br />

Dr Martin Rühl, who heads up the<br />

working group on biochemical and molecular<br />

biology for food analysis at the<br />

university, has been working on this project<br />

for almost a decade.<br />

“We’re looking for the opportunity to<br />

upcycle side streams. Fungal organisms<br />

are capable of growing on different substrates,<br />

which cannot be used for by other<br />

organisms, which we otherwise have<br />

to dump, and by doing that, they will<br />

build up alternative proteins which then<br />

can be used by us as a food or as supplements,”<br />

he tells EUobserver.<br />

Some of the big advantages of using<br />

mycelium over, say, extracting protein<br />

from protein-rich plants like soy, are first<br />

that the proteins produced by fungi are<br />

more similar to proteins found in meat,<br />

making the more easily digestible, and<br />

second, that mycelium can be grown to<br />

resemble the structure of meat, rather<br />

than putting plant proteins through an<br />

extrusion process to add texture.<br />

However, Rühl also says that producing<br />

mycelium protein at the scale necessary<br />

to be a major source of protein is still a<br />

bit of a problem.<br />

First, there are the complexities of working<br />

with a living organism and being able<br />

to produce large quantities of mycelium<br />

at scale - although some companies, like<br />

the US-based Meati Foods are investing<br />

in industrial-scale facilities, and Enough<br />

recently inaugurated their plant in the<br />

Netherlands. With scale, the price of<br />

mycelium-based protein should come<br />

down, although Rühl says it will be hard<br />

to beat cheap crops like soy.<br />

Second, there are regulations. Fungi,<br />

while extremely abundant and having<br />

been consumed and used for millennia,<br />

are still a relatively under-researched<br />

area – which makes it harder for regulators<br />

to establish the safety of new products<br />

wanting to enter the market. Especially<br />

when it comes to mycelium.<br />

Rühl explained that while the mushroom<br />

and the underlying mycelium both share<br />

the same genetic material, the EU has<br />

established that any foods created from<br />

the mycelium are to be classified as a<br />

novel food – even if the mushroom itself<br />

is considered safe. He gives the example<br />

of the oyster mushroom, which has been<br />

consumed for thousands of years, but<br />

when used in its mycelial form, is considered<br />

to be a ‘novel food’ that must go<br />

through the full regulatory process.<br />

Fungi can<br />

play an<br />

important<br />

role in this<br />

process. And<br />

thankfully,<br />

not creating<br />

food from<br />

oil this time<br />

around.<br />

Both investors and startups have told<br />

EUobserver that these regulatory hurdles,<br />

imposed by the EU through the<br />

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)<br />

are both costly for fledgling companies,<br />

and slow down the innovation process.<br />

Naturally, it’s important to make sure<br />

that no harmful foods enter the EU market,<br />

but at the same time, Rühl says that<br />

variations in toxin production between<br />

the mushroom and mycelium are measured<br />

in nanograms.<br />

The EFSA, in a response to EUobserver,<br />

said that the novel food category does<br />

not make this distinction, and applies the<br />

same vetting process for both the mushroom<br />

and mycelium – although of course<br />

a new product would have to be categorised<br />

as a novel food first, which is where<br />

the problem arises. In essence, a burger<br />

made from oyster mushrooms would not<br />

be considered a novel food, while a burger<br />

made from oyster mushroom mycelium<br />

would be.<br />

Of course, there are a number of factors<br />

that should be closely considered for<br />

food safety reasons, even for products<br />

produced from mycelium of a known<br />

edible fungal species. The substrate on<br />

which the mycelium is grown, especially<br />

if it comes from a side or waste-stream,<br />

should be free from toxins (such as herbicides<br />

or pesticides) and heavy metals.<br />

The mycelium product has to be treated<br />

to reduce RNA content, and should not<br />

be contaminated with other microorganisms.<br />

With the world population rapidly increasing,<br />

and the effects of <strong>climate</strong><br />

<strong>change</strong> becoming more apparent, creating<br />

smooth regulatory pathways should<br />

be a top priority to keep food innovation<br />

at a pace that allows humans to remain<br />

inside the planetary environmental constraints.<br />

And not only for human consumption;<br />

replacing animal feed proteins derived<br />

from e.g. soy with feed produced from<br />

alternative sources, has the added benefit<br />

of reducing the need for arable land,<br />

creating a net carbon sink.<br />

Fungi can play an important role in this<br />

process. And thankfully, not creating<br />

food from oil this time around.<br />

About<br />

Alejandro Tauber<br />

Alejandro Tauber is publisher of<br />

EUobserver, and previously was<br />

editor at VICE’s Motherboard, and<br />

publisher of TNW, with a background<br />

in science and tech reporting.<br />

9


EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

Healthy<br />

people,<br />

healthy<br />

landscapes:<br />

a look into<br />

local food<br />

systems<br />

Ghent's policies represent an important idea: cities<br />

and their regions can become more connected and<br />

promote healthy and sustainable food systems.<br />

By PAULA SOLER<br />

The ‘Triple H Approach’: healthy people, healthy<br />

landscape and a healthy <strong>climate</strong><br />

Source: Jacopo Maia/Unsplash<br />

11


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

Thursday is ‘Veggie Day’. Schools have<br />

gardens in their backyards. Daily food<br />

surpluses are coordinated and sent to social<br />

organisations for those who need it<br />

most. And shops and restaurants can buy<br />

organic and local products such as fruit<br />

and vegetables from small farmers in the<br />

region through an online platform.<br />

These are just some of the outcomes<br />

that Ghent has been experiencing for<br />

years thanks to its ‘Ghent en Garde’<br />

(Ghent In Front) initiative. The urban<br />

food policy of this northwestern Belgian<br />

city of around 250,000 inhabitants is<br />

one of the most pioneering on the entire<br />

European continent — and has succeeded<br />

in making seven percent of its population<br />

vegetarian.<br />

Over the years, its various efforts have<br />

saved thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions,<br />

while its population has shifted<br />

towards healthier and more sustainable<br />

eating and consumption habits.<br />

For example, Vanier, the platform that<br />

connects local farmers with their buyers,<br />

has managed to shorten supply chains in<br />

the region, cutting CO₂ emissions by 36<br />

percent in the short term, although they<br />

estimate their long-term potential to be<br />

up to 79 percent.<br />

And its online food forum lists more<br />

than 1,000 sustainable initiatives, ranging<br />

from food composting to plant-based<br />

solutions.<br />

Most importantly, such policies represent<br />

an important idea: cities and their<br />

regions can become more connected and<br />

promote healthy and sustainable food<br />

systems, the Local Governments for Sustainability<br />

(ICLEI) — a network of over<br />

2,500 local and regional governments<br />

committed to sustainable urban development<br />

— tells EUobserver.<br />

They call it the ‘Triple H Approach’:<br />

Cities are the biggest polluters,<br />

but also the ones who have<br />

the upper hand in awarding<br />

public contracts for school and<br />

hospital meals, managing food<br />

waste, etc.<br />

healthy people, healthy landscape and<br />

healthy <strong>climate</strong>, says Peter Defranceschi,<br />

head of their global food programme.<br />

“Cities have a huge impact on how food<br />

can be produced, distributed, consumed<br />

and disposed of,” Angèle Tasse, ICLEI’s<br />

sustainable food systems officer, told EUobserver.<br />

Cities are the biggest polluters (70 percent<br />

of greenhouse gases are emitted in<br />

cities), but also the ones who have the<br />

upper hand in awarding public contracts<br />

for school and hospital meals, managing<br />

food waste, etc.<br />

As both experts explain, proposals such<br />

as plant-based diets are not only about<br />

reducing pollutant emissions, but also<br />

about increasing animal welfare, generating<br />

local employment, reducing food<br />

waste, or promoting healthier and more<br />

affordable diets (by reducing the amount<br />

of meat and fish consumed).<br />

Doing it locally also means reducing intermediaries,<br />

packaging, or pollution —<br />

by promoting so-called ‘last-mile’ transport<br />

systems.<br />

Another example. In Vienna, the criteria<br />

guiding the award of public procurement<br />

contracts were <strong>change</strong>d to take greater<br />

account of sustainability and ecology. By<br />

2022, one third of the city’s food preparations<br />

for pensioners and hospitals, and<br />

half of schools and kindergartens, used<br />

organically-farmed food. And €1.5m and<br />

15,000 tonnes of CO2 have been saved<br />

annually thanks to the new contracts.<br />

However, the will of these cities is not<br />

always enough, Tasse stresses. “Cities<br />

can play a key role, but they also need<br />

the support of the national government<br />

to take ambitious action”. More cooperation<br />

and dialogue at local, regional and<br />

national levels will be necessary to bring<br />

true transformation, she stresses.<br />

The potential is there. This is also proven<br />

by a study showing that 10 percent of the<br />

production of legumes, roots and tubers,<br />

and vegetable crops, could be produced<br />

from urban agriculture.<br />

Lupin – the high-protein<br />

legume<br />

Another option that is increasingly gaining<br />

ground is lupin, a high-protein legume<br />

that, besides being a popular snack<br />

in Mediterranean cuisine, can also be<br />

used as a substitute for soya or as a base<br />

for creating plant-based meals.<br />

“Lupins can be established as an alternative<br />

protein crop, capable of promoting<br />

socio-economic growth and environmental<br />

benefits in Europe,” concludes<br />

the article ‘The future of lupin as a protein<br />

crop in Europe’, published in the<br />

scientific magazine ‘Frontiers in Plant<br />

Science’.<br />

However, its cultivation is not yet sufficient<br />

to guarantee a steady supply to the<br />

food industry, the piece also points out.<br />

Lupin is mainly harvested on the oceanic<br />

continent, which accounts for<br />

three-quarters of total production, while<br />

Europe accounts for less than one-fifth.<br />

In 2020, the world’s top ten producers included<br />

EU countries such as Poland, Germany,<br />

Greece, and France. On a smaller<br />

scale, it is gaining market share in other<br />

member states such as Denmark, where<br />

from 2015 to 2018 alone its production<br />

increased by more than 50 percent.<br />

“Lupins have high commercial potential,<br />

especially in markets where consumers<br />

are focused on local, healthy, protein-rich<br />

and plant-based food,” notes<br />

one of the working documents of the<br />

European project PROTEIN2FOOD, focused<br />

on the development of high quality<br />

food protein.<br />

In this sense, the EU is also working<br />

on its farm-to-fork strategy to support<br />

member states in their transition towards<br />

sustainable food systems. And its<br />

funding is currently boosting projects<br />

such as FoodSHIFT 2030, which have<br />

opened nine living labs across Europe<br />

to research citizen initiatives that can be<br />

scaled up, respond to social and environmental<br />

challenges, and be economically<br />

sustainable in the future.<br />

Their lab in Poland is creating a model<br />

that allows young people to create social<br />

gardens within cities, where they could<br />

implement circular economy solutions<br />

or plant-based diets.<br />

The one in the Greater Copenhagen area<br />

of Denmark aims to create greater cooperation<br />

between urban and rural areas in<br />

the region, in order to transform current<br />

food systems into more environmentally<br />

sustainable ones.<br />

Lupins<br />

have high<br />

commercial<br />

potential,<br />

especially in<br />

markets where<br />

consumers<br />

are focused on<br />

local, healthy,<br />

protein-rich<br />

and plantbased<br />

food”<br />

They are not the only ones. Other<br />

European projects such as SchoolFood-<br />

4Change work on an equally important<br />

part: education and social awareness of a<br />

new food culture.<br />

Some <strong>change</strong>s are small. In Sweden,<br />

when the youngest pupils were presented<br />

with a ‘vegetarian’ option in their<br />

canteens, they turned it down. However,<br />

when the options were listed simply<br />

as one and two, instead of vegetarian<br />

and conventional, the children started to<br />

choose the meat-free option.<br />

“We are also working on how to present<br />

these healthier options to the children, so<br />

they can become an equally conventional<br />

choice,” explains Tasse. ICLEI is the coordinator<br />

of the project which, in addition<br />

to introducing healthier diets in schools,<br />

educates new generations about the origin<br />

and impact of everything they eat.<br />

And although each initiative is different,<br />

this and the previous ones have one<br />

thing in common: the seed (the concept)<br />

is planted from the bottom (or early on),<br />

and grows or scales up to where it can<br />

become a reality: be it at the community,<br />

local, regional or national level.<br />

About<br />

Paula Soler<br />

Paula Soler is EUobserver’s social<br />

affairs correspondent. She previously<br />

worked covering economic<br />

and financial affairs at Spanish<br />

newspaper El Confidencial.<br />

13


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

Plants<br />

get boost<br />

from<br />

new food<br />

security<br />

worries<br />

In Europe, affordability of food<br />

rather than access to food is a<br />

concern. Plant-based diets could<br />

make the entire system more<br />

sustainable, including prices.<br />

By ESZTER ZALAN<br />

Moving to a plant-based diet in the EU and the UK<br />

could replace almost all the production losses from<br />

Russia and Ukraine, according to research.<br />

Source: Ella Olson<br />

The war in Ukraine brought into sharp<br />

focus that food security is not a given.<br />

Not even in Europe.<br />

Countries highly-dependent on imports<br />

of Ukrainian and Russian cereals, like<br />

Egypt, Turkey and Middle East, faced<br />

shortages — which Russian propaganda<br />

has used to undermine the West’s sanctions<br />

policy.<br />

While the shocks to the food system<br />

caused by the war mostly impacted<br />

countries outside of Europe, there is increasing<br />

concern about affordable food<br />

in the EU too.<br />

Food prices have continued to rise, despite<br />

inflation dropping for a second<br />

consecutive month in December 2022,<br />

according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical<br />

agency.<br />

The inflation of food prices in the EU was<br />

18.2 percent in December, with the highest<br />

price rise seen in Hungary at nearly<br />

50 percent, Lithuania with 33.5 percent,<br />

followed by Estonia with 30.8 percent.<br />

“Food security effects are minor, in an international<br />

perspective. […] Availability<br />

of food in the EU is not impaired. Foodprice<br />

inflation has been high, so affordability<br />

is critical for the poorest households,”<br />

Rico Ihle from the Wageningen<br />

University in the Netherlands told MEPs<br />

last October.<br />

He added that the EU was able to<br />

boost its wheat exports, contributing to<br />

smoothing the global scarcity caused by<br />

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – with both<br />

countries being important exporters.<br />

“The EU has been shown in simulations<br />

of the World Bank to be the largest global<br />

winner in terms of gains in export revenues<br />

due to the explosion of prices, but it<br />

is a net loser due to massive energy imports,”<br />

Ihle explained.<br />

15


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

These concerns over food security, which<br />

are not only exacerbated by the war but<br />

also by the increasingly extreme and unpredictable<br />

weather caused by <strong>climate</strong><br />

<strong>change</strong>, underpin arguments for adjusting<br />

to a more plant-based diet.<br />

Meat = Heat<br />

The global production of food is responsible<br />

for a third of all planet-heating gases<br />

and the use of animals for meat causes<br />

twice the pollution of producing plantbased<br />

foods, a major study has found.<br />

Animal agriculture’s impact on food security<br />

and <strong>climate</strong> <strong>change</strong> are expected<br />

to grow, if plant-based diets do not take<br />

on. The UN estimates that more people<br />

will consume meat as millions will adopt<br />

middle-class, urbanised lifestyle along<br />

with its consumption habits.<br />

Asia accounts for 40 to 45 percent of total<br />

global meat production, having overtaken<br />

Europe and North America as the<br />

dominant producers, according to a UK<br />

government report on food security. The<br />

UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization<br />

(FAO) expects global meat production to<br />

increase by 13 percent over the next 10<br />

years.<br />

It remains to be seen if that trend would<br />

be impacted by growing prices and <strong>climate</strong><br />

concerns. Europeans are tending to<br />

decrease meat consumption, but not by<br />

much, and very slowly.<br />

About 1.5kg of meat is consumed per<br />

week by the average citizen of the EU-27,<br />

according to FAO data, which is twice<br />

the global average, Greenpeace argues.<br />

The EU Commission expects that the<br />

EU meat per capita consumption will<br />

drop from 69.8kg in 2018 to 67 kg by<br />

2031. Beef and pig meat consumption is<br />

projected to go down in the next decade,<br />

but poultry and sheep are expected to<br />

The global production of food is responsible for<br />

a third of all planet-heating gases and the use of<br />

animals for meat causes twice the pollution of<br />

producing plant-based foods.<br />

Source: The Humane Society<br />

grow. The EAT-Lancet diet, which sets<br />

out a healthy diet for a sustainable food<br />

system, recommends that people eat no<br />

more than 300 grams of meat per week<br />

by 2050.<br />

EU Commission data also show that<br />

around two-thirds of EU cereal production<br />

and 70 percent of oilseed production<br />

is intended for animal feed. Since<br />

2012, there is no specific support for protein<br />

crops, and import tariffs are set at<br />

zero, the EU Commission said.<br />

“As meat and energy intensive products<br />

such as greenhouse-grown vegetables<br />

become more expensive, consumers<br />

could look for alternatives, such as plant<br />

proteins, and seasonal, locally-available,<br />

products,” said Melchior Szczepanik<br />

from the Polish Institute of International<br />

Affairs, sketching out what he called a<br />

“positive scenario”.<br />

“Smaller meat production would con-<br />

tribute to lower emissions and make it<br />

possible to use more cereals for food,” he<br />

said, adding, however, that larger farmer’s<br />

associations are now even less likely than<br />

before the war to accept pledges that<br />

would require them to <strong>change</strong> farming<br />

practices for the sake of sustainability.<br />

Geneviève Pons, director general of<br />

Brussels-based Europe Jacques Delors<br />

think-tank warned that “we cannot look<br />

at the EU in isolation.”<br />

She said global responses on food security<br />

should include keeping trade open, and<br />

better managing the utilisation of crops,<br />

addressing the “competition between<br />

biofuel production, feeding animals and<br />

feeding people”. “We need to encourage<br />

alternatives to animal proteins,” Pons<br />

said.<br />

Veggies for security<br />

Replacing only 20 percent of meat with<br />

microbial protein could more than halve<br />

the rate of deforestation and reduce carbon<br />

emissions related to cattle farming<br />

by 2050, a study published in Nature<br />

found. It would also halve emissions from<br />

the global food system.<br />

And moving to a plant-based diet in the<br />

EU and the UK could replace almost all<br />

the production losses from Russia and<br />

Ukraine, argued research in Nature Food.<br />

Leiden researcher and co-author of that<br />

study, Paul Behrens, said plant-based options<br />

are “vitally important” to food security<br />

in Europe.<br />

As meat and energy intensive<br />

products such as greenhousegrown<br />

vegetables become more<br />

expensive, consumers could<br />

look for alternatives, such as<br />

plant proteins, and seasonal,<br />

locally-available, products.”<br />

“A number of studies have shown that the<br />

food system on its own, even if we were<br />

going to transition the energy system, will<br />

blow <strong>climate</strong> targets. It is not surprising,”<br />

Behrens told EUobserver, adding that the<br />

three main pillars of food transition are:<br />

reduction of food waste, plant-based diets,<br />

and <strong>change</strong>s in production.<br />

“Plant-based diets have the largest opportunity,”<br />

he said. “It is quite remarkable<br />

that so many things can be improved.<br />

Not just about <strong>climate</strong> <strong>change</strong>, but about<br />

viral pandemics, water pollution, air pollution,<br />

use of pesticides,” Behrens added.<br />

“You can reduce your emissions over 50<br />

percent by shifting to a plant-rich diet,”<br />

he added.<br />

Behrens argued that farmers need to be<br />

taken onboard. “It is about giving options<br />

to people so they are not trapped,” he<br />

said.<br />

EU member states, particularly Austria<br />

and France, have called for an EU-wide<br />

protein strategy by the commission.<br />

Countries primarily want to reduce their<br />

reliance on plant protein imports, as for<br />

example 90 percent of the soy needed for<br />

EU animal feed is imported.<br />

The commission is preparing a review of<br />

its protein policy, EUobserver was told<br />

by the commission’s spokespeople. “The<br />

aim is to increase food security while reducing<br />

the impact on the environment<br />

and <strong>climate</strong> both in the EU and globally,”<br />

the agriculture commissioner Janusz<br />

Melchior Szczepanik<br />

Wojciechowski told the European Parliament<br />

in February. The executive plans<br />

to deliver this review in the beginning of<br />

2024.<br />

About<br />

Eszter Zalan<br />

Eszter is from Budapest, Hungary.<br />

She joined EUobserver in 2015.<br />

She reported on conflict and war<br />

zones for Nepszabadsag, the largest<br />

Hungarian daily, for several<br />

years, and has also covered Hungary<br />

for Agence France-Presse.<br />

At EUobserver, she covers issues<br />

around European democracy, rule<br />

of law, and populism. She is the<br />

co-founder of EUrologus, a Hungarian<br />

blog focusing on EU affairs.<br />

17


EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

Novel food —<br />

from safety<br />

checks to<br />

grocery<br />

shelves<br />

Antarctic Krill oil, protein extract from pig<br />

kidneys, magnolia bark extract and the mung<br />

bean. All these and many others are on a list of<br />

approved novel foods for sale on the European<br />

market.<br />

By NIKOLAJ NIELSEN<br />

The last on that list, the mung bean, is a base ingredient for plantmade<br />

eggs produced by US firm Eat Just. In 2020, Eat Just submitted<br />

an application to get mung bean listed as an EU novel food.<br />

Two years later it was approved.<br />

Before mung bean got the European Commission’s stamp of<br />

approval, it first had to go through a scientific review.<br />

That review is carried out by the Italian-based agency, the European<br />

Food Safety Authority (EFSA). “The team that is working on this has<br />

grown considerably,” confirmed EFSA spokesperson, Edward Bray.<br />

The EFSA has received some 200 applications for novel foods since<br />

the EU introduced new rules in 2018. “That’s more than we received<br />

in the whole period from our foundation in 2002 up to this date,”<br />

adds Bray.<br />

This scientific review can take up to nine months. In some cases,<br />

it may take longer. But Bray said that is usually because of missing<br />

data from the companies.<br />

The EU says a ‘novel food’ is food that has not been consumed<br />

to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997<br />

Source: European Parliament<br />

19


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

Some 19 applications are pending, for instance,<br />

on cannabidiol (CBD) foods due<br />

to a lack of data.<br />

“CBD is quite a specific case. We put all<br />

of the applications on hold at the same<br />

time. Our assessment of available studies<br />

showed data gaps regarding the safe<br />

use of CBD as food,” said Bray.<br />

EFSA scientists say they need more data<br />

to determine the effect of CBD on the<br />

liver and gastrointestinal tract, for instance.<br />

But once EFSA gives a product<br />

the green light, the European Commission<br />

usually follows through.<br />

I see novel foods mainly<br />

as an opportunity to get<br />

proteins from new sources<br />

and strengthen our diversity<br />

in food.”<br />

Tom Vandenkendelaere<br />

Novel food regulation<br />

The Brussels-executive says the 2018<br />

novel food regulation means innovative<br />

foods can get onto the market quicker.<br />

And it defines novel food as food that<br />

had not been consumed to a significant<br />

degree by humans in the EU before 15<br />

May 1997.<br />

Prior to 2018, applicants would first go to<br />

a member state for approval and then to<br />

EFSA. The new regulation created a centralised<br />

authorisation system.<br />

“An e-submission system has been developed<br />

to facilitate the online submission<br />

of novel foods applications,” said a European<br />

commission official.<br />

Firms can also retain an exclusive right<br />

to sell their approved novel food ingredient<br />

for up to five years. After that, anyone<br />

can market it.<br />

It means the process is more simple and<br />

efficient, said the official. But not everyone<br />

agrees.<br />

Among them is Swedish liberal MEP<br />

Emma Wiesner. “I’m coming from a traditional<br />

farmer’s party, but I’m also an<br />

environmentalist,” said the 30-year old,<br />

who also holds a masters degree in science<br />

and engineering.<br />

Wiesner is the European Parliament’s<br />

lead MEP on a new European <strong>Protein</strong><br />

Strategy. “This will not be a strategy<br />

about human intake of animal protein.<br />

That’s not what it’s about. It’s not a farmer<br />

strategy,” she said.<br />

Instead, she says the strategy seeks to<br />

increase protein crop production in Europe<br />

for use in novel technologies and<br />

novel foods.<br />

This includes plant-based and alternative<br />

protein for human consumption, as<br />

well as animal feed. Compared to novel<br />

food technology in Singapore and Israel,<br />

Europe is lagging behind, she said.<br />

Wiesner says getting authorisation and<br />

permits takes too much time in Europe.<br />

“So that can really hamper a lot of cool<br />

projects and new technologies,” she said.<br />

Belgian MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere,<br />

who is working on the European <strong>Protein</strong><br />

Strategy on behalf of the centre-right<br />

European People’s Party (EPP), drew similar<br />

observations.<br />

“Providers of novel food continue to face<br />

too many administrative barriers to get<br />

their products on the market,” he said.<br />

For Vandenkendelaere, the 2018 regulation<br />

on novel foods already needs an<br />

update.<br />

Do novel foods pose an existential threat<br />

to traditional farming? Not really, says<br />

Vandenkendelaere.<br />

“I see novel foods mainly as an opportunity<br />

to get proteins from new sources<br />

and strengthen our diversity in food,” he<br />

said.<br />

About<br />

Nikolaj Nielsen<br />

Nikolaj was born in Denmark but<br />

spent a better part of his life in<br />

Belgium, France and the United<br />

States. He joined EUobserver in<br />

2012, where he primarily covers<br />

migration, human rights and<br />

transparency issues. His reporting<br />

for EUobserver has taken him to<br />

Algeria, Belarus, Egypt, Lebanon,<br />

Moldova, Russia, Transnistria, Turkey,<br />

Uganda, Ukraine and off the<br />

Libyan coast.


EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

INTERVIEW<br />

Andy<br />

Zynga,<br />

CEO of<br />

EIT Food<br />

EIT Food sees alternative proteins, or ‘protein<br />

diversification’, as CEO Andy Zynga prefers to<br />

call it, as a promising avenue to address some<br />

of the shortcomings of our current food systems.<br />

By ALEJANDRO TAUBER<br />

Andy Zynga: ‘Just by mere fact of more [of these products] being<br />

available at the supermarket, people will try things and through that we<br />

believe that the mix of protein sources will actually expand.’<br />

In 2016, the European Institute of Innovation<br />

and Technology (EIT) – an independent<br />

EU body established in 2006<br />

– founded EIT Food, a Knowledge and<br />

Innovation Community (KIC) focused<br />

on tackling problems related to food and<br />

food production.<br />

The organisation, like all other KICs,<br />

brings together stakeholders ranging<br />

from industry to civil society to work<br />

together on funding projects, companies<br />

and individuals that show promise in<br />

helping to solve issues like malnutrition,<br />

waste and <strong>climate</strong> <strong>change</strong>. It’s funded in<br />

part through the European Commission,<br />

and in part through contributions from<br />

industry members.<br />

In 2018, the organisation appointed Andy<br />

Zynga as CEO, in his first non-profit gig<br />

of his career. EIT Food sees alternative<br />

proteins, or ‘protein diversification’, as<br />

Zynga prefers to call it, as a promising<br />

avenue to address some of the shortcomings<br />

of our current food systems.<br />

EUobserver spoke to Zynga about EIT<br />

Food’s mission, the promises of protein<br />

diversification, and the shortcomings of<br />

existing regulation in helping innovation<br />

in the EU flourish.<br />

EUobserver: So what brings you to EIT<br />

Food, Andy?<br />

Zynga: I’ve been in this role for something<br />

like four and a half years. After<br />

spending my whole career building or<br />

turning around businesses in the for<br />

profit sector, this is my first time in the<br />

non-profit. I’m excited because this role<br />

gives me a chance to have an impact on<br />

an entire ecosystem plus a whole industry<br />

and make doing something that has<br />

tangible value for both people and the<br />

<strong>Alt</strong>hough we noticed over<br />

the years that while the<br />

interest in these sources<br />

of protein rose for a while,<br />

there’s still work to be done<br />

in communicating to the<br />

consumer that these options<br />

are actually a good source<br />

of protein.”<br />

planet. And I think at this stage, this is<br />

really what we need.<br />

Tell me something about EIT Food<br />

and its mission.<br />

EIT Food is a European Union co-funded<br />

non-profit that aims to transform the<br />

food system. What we aim to do is to<br />

make people and the planet healthier by<br />

creating impact in five particular areas;<br />

the reduction of the risk of non communicable<br />

disease through malnutrition,<br />

the reduction of the risk of obesity (with<br />

a focus on childhood obesity), reduction<br />

in the negative impact of the food system<br />

on the environment to focus on greenhouse<br />

gas emissions and water, a better<br />

circularity of the food system so as to reduce<br />

food waste and food loss, and then<br />

lastly, improvement in the conditions<br />

for better trust of consumers in the food<br />

system.<br />

Ambitious.<br />

It’s basically the pact we have with the<br />

citizens of Europe for the funds that<br />

we’re getting from the EU Commission.<br />

In effect, we identify the challenges in<br />

the system that need to be solved across<br />

Andy Zynga<br />

four areas in which we work, one of<br />

them being innovation or product development,<br />

then also education, business<br />

creation and public engagement.<br />

And how has that been going?<br />

In the very beginning, in the original<br />

consortium, we had 50 partners. So<br />

these are fee-paying members in order<br />

to build a trusting relationship across<br />

that network. This network of partners<br />

has grown to about 100 over the years.<br />

We have many different partners, from<br />

farming cooperatives, to processors,<br />

firms like Pepsi and Danone and DSM to<br />

retailers like Colruyt in Belgium. We also<br />

work with some consumer organisations<br />

and NGOs like the Good Food Institute<br />

(GFI). We basically assembled all the different<br />

actors in the food system that can<br />

help us to create that impact that we owe<br />

to the citizens of Europe.<br />

Let’s talk about alternative proteins,<br />

and how EIT Food has seen the space<br />

evolve.<br />

We’ve seen a real surge in interest, particularly<br />

by the investor community in<br />

alternative proteins. Now, just for infor-<br />

23


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

mation, we like to call it ‘protein diversification’,<br />

because ‘alternative’ suggests<br />

replacing something else. What we believe<br />

is that animal meat itself as a protein<br />

source will most likely not go <strong>away</strong>.<br />

Now plant-based proteins, we’ve seen<br />

a very strong investor interest in that.<br />

There’s also algae, another area that’s<br />

been growing. And, of course, one of the<br />

strong ones now is fungus and such like,<br />

so mycoproteins and precision fermentation<br />

– everything that’s growing in a bioreactor,<br />

also looks like a very interesting<br />

way to go forward. Then there are also<br />

edible insects, and I’m not going to leave<br />

them out of the picture.<br />

<strong>Alt</strong>hough we noticed over the years that<br />

while the interest in these sources of protein<br />

rose for a while, there’s still work to<br />

be done in communicating to the consumer<br />

that these options are actually a<br />

good source of protein.<br />

So we see this development as a diversification<br />

of sources, and just by mere fact of<br />

more being available at the supermarket,<br />

people will try things and through that<br />

we believe that the mix of protein sources<br />

will actually expand. People try a little<br />

bit of this, a little bit of that, so that’s<br />

what we see now.<br />

What are the main advantages of<br />

people moving to diversifying their<br />

protein diet?<br />

<strong>Protein</strong> diversification has several really<br />

important knock-on effects that are<br />

important to those five impacts that I<br />

mentioned in the beginning. One of<br />

them is of course <strong>climate</strong> action. I mentioned<br />

we try to avoid water use, and if<br />

you look at plant based protein, GFI is<br />

saying that plant based protein uses 99<br />

percent less water. So that’s one, but secondly,<br />

also for human health. If you look<br />

at the EAT-Lancet report about planetary<br />

health diets, it shows that having more<br />

diversity in protein sources helps people’s<br />

health. Then there’s the environment<br />

and more diverse crops. If you’re<br />

not focusing just on those seven or eight<br />

main crops, but you’re diversifying that<br />

as well. And of course, it’s also got a very<br />

positive impact on the economy, because<br />

you have this growth of all these new<br />

startups that are trying things.<br />

An AI-image of edible insects. More than<br />

2,000 species of insects are considered edible,<br />

and more than two billion people are already<br />

estimated to eat insects daily<br />

Can you give me some examples?<br />

Most recently, I saw a company called<br />

Cocoon Biosciences, that is growing<br />

growth factors for alternative proteins by<br />

injecting something in cocoons of some<br />

kind of larvae. We see those companies<br />

spring up like mushrooms — some of<br />

them actually literally working with<br />

mushrooms! There’s a lot of growth, a lot<br />

of interest by the investor community,<br />

but also by consumers, importantly, we<br />

see they’re very interested in protein diversification.<br />

Now one of the limiting factors I’ve<br />

heard from many companies in the<br />

alternative protein space is that EU<br />

regulation is quite strict or slow-moving<br />

when it comes to novel foods.<br />

What is EIT Food doing to help innovation<br />

there?<br />

We started a think-tank for protein diversification,<br />

in which we have a whole<br />

group of our partners who, together with<br />

non-partners, discuss what are certain<br />

of the policies that should be suggested.<br />

What are some of the challenges that we<br />

should focus on in order to make this industry<br />

grow?<br />

Such as?<br />

We have a so-called Policy Advisory Board<br />

where we bring together the different<br />

DGs that are involved in food and in the<br />

food system, all the way from DG AGRI<br />

to DG MARE, DG SANTE, DG RTD and<br />

DG EAC. Sometimes I think from a policy<br />

point of view, the complexity makes it<br />

difficult to get a clear handle on the food<br />

system as a whole. We try to foster the dialogue,<br />

the communication policies and<br />

identifying all these different neuralgic<br />

spots in the food system that need to be<br />

solved in order for it to grow in the right<br />

way. In the Policy Advisory Board, we see<br />

really good collaboration.<br />

So what would you say are kind of the<br />

biggest regulatory challenges when it<br />

comes to diversification of proteins?<br />

There are a few. We most recently issued<br />

a white paper on protein diversification<br />

in which we make a few recommendations.<br />

One of them is that the regulatory<br />

approval for novel foods could be maybe<br />

a little bit faster, or so we hear from<br />

startups.<br />

I most recently spoke to a startup from<br />

Hamburg making a lab-grown seafood<br />

alternative. So I asked them if they are<br />

doing anything in Germany. And he said,<br />

“we’d love to because we’re right here,<br />

but we cannot because we don’t have<br />

regulatory approval.” So they’re going<br />

to Singapore, and then they go to the<br />

States. Those are the two countries that<br />

are actually quite advanced. We’re falling<br />

behind a little bit, is what I’m trying to<br />

say. And I don’t know what that means<br />

in terms of measures, from where I’m sitting.<br />

Maybe the teams in EFSA need to<br />

be bolstered?<br />

Secondly, what I also hear is from startups<br />

that the EFSA when they submit<br />

applications, there are no hearings. And<br />

that’s what we hear is happening in the<br />

US. Startups submit applications, and<br />

oftentimes, the complexity of the matter,<br />

scientifically-speaking, is such that<br />

Sometimes I<br />

think from a<br />

policy point<br />

of view, the<br />

complexity<br />

makes it<br />

difficult to get<br />

a clear handle<br />

on the food<br />

system as a<br />

whole.”<br />

Andy Zynga<br />

just looking at the paper is maybe not<br />

enough. I have to stress, I don’t know if<br />

hearings are actually taking place, but if<br />

they’re not, then maybe they should.<br />

We also think that funding is a little bit<br />

behind in this part of the world, so we’re<br />

certainly talking to some European Union<br />

institutions about maybe setting up a<br />

fund of funds that we can be involved in<br />

for agri-food.<br />

And is there anything else that might<br />

help?<br />

The EU legal framework for environmental<br />

food labelling. That’s a really interesting<br />

avenue for Europe because it<br />

leads to food majors reconfiguring their<br />

supply chains to have less environmental<br />

impact. That is one I’m really excited<br />

about and all of us here at EIT food. The<br />

whole environmental food labelling is an<br />

amazingly impactful piece of legislation,<br />

that’s going to lead to major impacts on<br />

the food production side, which will also<br />

impact plant-based protein sources.<br />

There’s not a lot of time left until 2030. I<br />

think there’s some real urgency to scale<br />

up some of these diversified protein<br />

sources to mitigate the impact meat has<br />

on the environment. Mind you, the meat<br />

producers, they’re also working very hard<br />

on finding alternatives, reducing methane<br />

emissions and stuff like that. But like<br />

I say, it’s not up to any of these individual<br />

little things. It’s the whole mix of the<br />

whole basket of things.<br />

The one thing that I haven’t seen is any<br />

kind of larger-scale analysis of the economic<br />

impact that having a diversified<br />

protein strategy for the EU might have<br />

in terms of, let’s say, bolstering exports<br />

or creating labour.<br />

Right, that’s an interesting point, to<br />

measure the economic impact of certain<br />

of these steps. I think that would probably<br />

ease the decision-making in some<br />

places and I think the JRC is also looking<br />

at that, you know, so I think they’re,<br />

they’re also actually coming up with a<br />

few of these impacts.<br />

All in all, where do you see the alt-protein,<br />

or protein diversification going in<br />

the longer run?<br />

Every couple of years we create a socalled<br />

trust report. Tracking the trust of<br />

consumers to us is very important, and<br />

I think it’s important to the rest of the<br />

community as well. In the 2021 Trust<br />

Report we found that only about 37 percent<br />

of Europeans are going to adopt<br />

new innovations, indicating that the<br />

food system has a lot more to do in<br />

educating consumers in promoting trust<br />

in these diverse protein sources.<br />

On the positive side, the GFI found in a<br />

little bit of research, in advance of this<br />

conversation, they queried 4,000 consumers<br />

across Europe and 60 percent<br />

say, more alternatives to meat products<br />

need to be found. There seems to be a<br />

very strong interest.<br />

25


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

How<br />

‘Big Meat’<br />

lobbies<br />

Brussels<br />

to keep<br />

carnivore<br />

status quo<br />

“In China, they’re building skyscrapers<br />

of pigs,” says Greenpeace. And in<br />

Brussels, the Big Meat lobby is spending<br />

millions to stop so-called ‘vegan radicals’<br />

from shaping EU policy.<br />

By ANDREW RETTMAN<br />

While Big Pharma firms spend some<br />

€36m a year in Brussels, according to<br />

Corporate Europe Observatory, Big<br />

Agri spends over €50m.<br />

“It’s not about banning meat — that’s<br />

not the point,” says Marco Contiero,<br />

who works in Brussels on agriculture for<br />

Greenpeace, an NGO and leading advocate<br />

of more plant-based food.<br />

“But in China, they’re building skyscrapers<br />

of pigs. It’s insane. That’s where<br />

things are headed, so we need to <strong>change</strong><br />

direction,” he added.<br />

Contiero grew up in Padua, in northern<br />

Italy, where meat is a time-honoured<br />

part of native cuisine. His favourite recipe<br />

is canederli (a kind of meatball) and<br />

If you thought<br />

oil and<br />

tobacco were<br />

influential, Big<br />

Meat is in a<br />

league of<br />

its own.<br />

he and his family eat organic meat once<br />

every 10 days or so, he told EUobserver.<br />

But for all the Paduan’s love of traditional<br />

food, the scientific verdict is already in:<br />

eating meat once or twice a day — the<br />

way many Europeans do and Chinese<br />

people aspire to — is ruining the planet<br />

due to the methane, ammonia, and nitrogen<br />

emissions of the dystopian-scale<br />

farming required to feed our appetite.<br />

And that’s on top of ruining your health<br />

and causing animal suffering.<br />

27


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

Source: Greenpeace<br />

It’s been proved in studies by the Intergovernmental<br />

Panel on Climate Change<br />

(IPCC), Oxford University in the UK and<br />

Wageningen University in the Netherlands.<br />

And it’s been written about ad<br />

nauseam by the World Health Organisation<br />

and in prestigious titles such as The<br />

Lancet, a British medical journal.<br />

That makes the ‘Big Meat’ lobby in Brussels<br />

just as toxic as Big Tobacco or Big Oil<br />

and <strong>climate</strong>-<strong>change</strong> denial.<br />

But if you thought oil and tobacco were<br />

influential, Big Meat is in a league of its<br />

own.<br />

Only one of the world’s top 10 meat producers,<br />

Brazil’s Cargill, has an office in<br />

Brussels. It spends up to €500,000 per<br />

year.<br />

Most other meat-producers lobby the EU<br />

via trade bodies such as Beef and Lamb<br />

New Zealand, the Dutch Meat Association,<br />

or the Danish Bacon and Meat<br />

Council.<br />

There are about 40 of these in Brussels<br />

with combined spending of more than<br />

€5m a year — an Italian sausage group,<br />

the Istituto Salumi Italiani Tutelati,<br />

spends €500,000 alone.<br />

But that’s just the beginning.<br />

Big Pharma companies, which make the<br />

chemicals and medication that enable<br />

industrial farming, such as Bayer and<br />

BASF, are broadly pro-meat. Big Agri also<br />

generally lobbies for EU diets to stay the<br />

same.<br />

Big Pharma firms spend some €36m a<br />

year in Brussels, according to Corporate<br />

Europe Observatory, an NGO. Big Agri<br />

spends over €50m.<br />

“All of industry suddenly goes up in arms<br />

if anyone says there’s a scientific problem<br />

It’s not about losing<br />

something we<br />

love. That’s really<br />

not the point. It’s<br />

about reducing<br />

the quantity and<br />

improving the<br />

quality of meat in<br />

European diets.”<br />

Marco Contiero<br />

with meat,” Contiero said.<br />

Taken together, the meat-axis message<br />

to EU officials, diplomats, and MEPs is<br />

that there would be economic devastation<br />

and famine if Europeans switched<br />

to plant-based foods.<br />

Just like Big Tobacco and Big Oil, they<br />

“greenwash” their sector via minor investments<br />

in sustainability, while at the<br />

same time paying scientists-for-hire to<br />

attack the IPCC or Lancet findings in industry-funded<br />

media.<br />

And it’s working.<br />

Most MEPs in the European Parliament’s<br />

agricultural committee are trying to water<br />

down an industrial-emissions directive<br />

that would impose new restrictions<br />

on cattle farmers and smaller pig and<br />

poultry producers.<br />

And a revision of the European Commission’s<br />

“promotion policy”, which dictates<br />

what kind of food it can advertise, has<br />

been blocked for over a year, meaning it’s<br />

still paying for projects such as the 2020<br />

‘Become a Beef-atarian’ campaign.<br />

The lobbying is working not just because<br />

of the PR millions or the substance of<br />

pro-meat propaganda, which is easy to<br />

debunk.<br />

One Big Meat line-to-take, for instance,<br />

is that the Ukraine war means the EU<br />

should protect vulnerable meat producers<br />

for the sake of food security. But<br />

numbers show the war has a minimal impact<br />

on the sector — the EU uses 38.2m<br />

tonnes of wheat a year for animal feed,<br />

but imported just 1m tonnes of this from<br />

Ukraine before Russia invaded.<br />

The lobbying is working because it’s<br />

preaching to the converted.<br />

Several MEPs on the agricultural committee<br />

are themselves farmers or land<br />

owners, despite the “blatant conflicts of<br />

interests” that creates, Contiero noted.<br />

The biggest political group in Brussels,<br />

the European People’s Party, has also<br />

“clearly taken a decision that the farming<br />

and rural community are an important<br />

electoral base”, he added.<br />

They represent the EU establishment<br />

and their influence on Europe’s power<br />

structures is as old as its aristocracies.<br />

“Europe’s principle landowners are some<br />

of the same noble families that date back<br />

to feudal times. For more than 1,000<br />

years these same people have had direct<br />

contact with power,” Contiero continued.<br />

The entrenched sense of entitlement is<br />

why when dairy farmers vandalise EU<br />

buildings in Brussels in boozy demonstrations,<br />

the Belgian police treat them<br />

with kid gloves, he claimed.<br />

And Europe’s rightwing populists are<br />

even more carnivorous, pushing an ideology<br />

that bakes meat-eating into the<br />

same pie of identity politics that also<br />

contains nationalism, xenophobia, and<br />

homophobia.<br />

Woke culture wars<br />

In Contiero’s home country, the populist<br />

government of prime minister Giorgia<br />

Meloni proposed a ban on lab-grown<br />

meat in March — in the name of protecting<br />

the Italian way of life.<br />

“They portray new ideas [such as plantbased<br />

food] as an attack on traditional<br />

lifestyles, using the same rhetoric that<br />

hammers migrants or LGBTI people,” he<br />

said.<br />

Meanwhile, on the other side of the<br />

world, China opened its first vertical<br />

(26-storey) pig farm last November.<br />

But if that’s not the direction you want<br />

the EU to keep following as populations<br />

grow, then you’re labelled a ‘vegan radical’<br />

in today’s culture wars, Contiero said.<br />

“It’s not about losing something we love.<br />

That’s really not the point. It’s about reducing<br />

the quantity and improving the<br />

quality of meat in European diets,” he<br />

said.<br />

“Speaking of tradition, we need to go<br />

back and value livestock farming the way<br />

we used to, instead of eating bad, cheaply<br />

produced meat for breakfast, lunch, and<br />

dinner every day of the year,” the Greenpeace<br />

campaigner said.<br />

Europe’s<br />

principle<br />

landowners<br />

are some of<br />

the same noble<br />

families that<br />

date back to<br />

feudal times.<br />

For more than<br />

1,000 years<br />

these same<br />

people have<br />

had direct<br />

contact with<br />

power.”<br />

About<br />

Andrew Rettman<br />

Andrew Rettman is EUobserver’s<br />

foreign affairs and defence correspondent.<br />

29


EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

After the<br />

alt–protein<br />

hype: a<br />

venture<br />

capitalist’s<br />

perspective<br />

To learn about the financing of alternative<br />

protein companies, EUobserver spoke to<br />

Marie Asano, who heads the food and<br />

nutrition team at the European Circular<br />

Bioeconomy Fund, which (despite its name) is<br />

an independent ‘dark green’ venture capital fund<br />

— focused on innovative companies that aim to<br />

bring bio-based foods to the general public.<br />

BY WESTER VAN GAAL<br />

Lupine proteins, a<br />

new upcoming raw<br />

material.<br />

31


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

Most of us by now have heard of meat<br />

alternatives, but lately they haven’t been<br />

in the headlines quite as much as they<br />

were a few years ago.<br />

Founding a company in a market that is<br />

both relatively new and past the initial<br />

hype can be challenging — especially in<br />

the EU, where legislation is slow, and<br />

public funding often has to be mirrored<br />

by private investors.<br />

Is the hype over?<br />

If you mean raising huge amounts of<br />

money based on exorbitant three-digit<br />

million valuations, then yes: the hype is<br />

over.<br />

What does that mean for the industry?<br />

We’re excited because that means the<br />

market is maturing. That means more<br />

predictability in terms of performance.<br />

In German, there’s a saying that ‘everybody<br />

cooks with water.’<br />

I’m excited about<br />

precision fermentation,<br />

which means producing<br />

specific cells from mycelium<br />

[the root system<br />

of mushrooms]<br />

or novel bacteria.”<br />

Marie Asano<br />

In the end, every investor – whether it’s<br />

venture capitalists or private equity –<br />

looks at the cold hard numbers. We look<br />

at revenue. We look at the potential for<br />

revenue generation. We look at profitability,<br />

and then we look at how realistic<br />

the chance is to achieve gains at the time<br />

of projected exit.<br />

EU legislation is infamously slow. So<br />

how does this influence the industry,<br />

compared to, for example, the US?<br />

The legislation most relevant for us is European<br />

novel food regulation, and indeed<br />

the pathway for approval for companies<br />

to commercialise their product still takes<br />

about two years, which has proven surprisingly<br />

stubborn.<br />

In the United States, the process is faster,<br />

but there a founder is completely liable if<br />

something turns out to be toxic, which<br />

is not the case in Europe. It’s a different<br />

way of thinking.<br />

How could the EU do better in the<br />

financing space for alt-foods?<br />

Greater access to grants so founders can<br />

build their companies without giving<br />

up control. That or free access to infrastructure.<br />

Anything that takes the weight<br />

off of having to raise €10m-€30m just to<br />

build a pilot plan for something that may<br />

or may not be successful. That would<br />

also make my job easier because founders<br />

have less incentive to inflate the value<br />

of their company to raise money and still<br />

keep control of their company.<br />

You’re an ‘Article Nine’ fund. Explain<br />

what that means?<br />

That means we are a very ‘dark green’<br />

fund under the EU’s sustainable finance<br />

disclosure rules, which quantifies how<br />

green and sustainable you are as a financial<br />

service. There is a whole rainbow<br />

of venture capital funds out there. We<br />

only invest in technologies that reduce<br />

emissions and social and environmental<br />

impact.<br />

Let’s get stuck in the alt-protein stuff:<br />

what are you focusing on?<br />

We prioritise investments in biobased<br />

technologies. Nature has a wonderful<br />

way of recycling carbon. Specifically, we<br />

focus on novel proteins and novel materials.<br />

If you break down food and taste<br />

to the molecular level, it becomes the<br />

science of what people like eating. How<br />

does it taste? What’s the chewiness? How<br />

does it perform under heat? Does it gel?<br />

What is the stuff that excites you?<br />

We invested in lupine proteins, a new<br />

upcoming raw material, and marine proteins<br />

like algae. I’m excited about precision<br />

fermentation, which means producing<br />

specific cells from mycelium [the<br />

root system of mushrooms] or novel bacteria.<br />

Fungi are one of the most diverse<br />

Marie Asano: In German, there’s a saying that ‘everybody cooks<br />

with water.’ In the end, every investor – whether it’s venture<br />

capitalists or private equity – looks at the cold hard numbers.<br />

We look at revenue<br />

kingdoms where each type – whether it’s<br />

shitake, morel mushrooms or just ordinary<br />

mushrooms – has wildly different<br />

properties. Some are crunchy; others are<br />

jelly-like. So you can imagine that leads<br />

to enormous variability of what you can<br />

do on the molecular level.<br />

How does this improve the food system<br />

that we have?<br />

What’s cool with precision fermentation<br />

is that it can be localised. So instead of<br />

contributing to deforestation in Brazil<br />

to build soy fields, it becomes possible to<br />

produce protein locally in a region that<br />

would not typically be a protein producer.<br />

Plus, mushroom cells are cool, right? You<br />

don’t have to say: hey, what you’re eating<br />

now is made from bacteria or bugs,<br />

essential for something to become acceptable<br />

for people. I don’t want to eat<br />

insects. No way!<br />

About<br />

Wester van Gaal<br />

Wester is a journalist from the<br />

Netherlands with a focus on<br />

the green economy. He joined<br />

EUobserver in September 2021.<br />

Previously he was editor-in-chief of<br />

Vice, Motherboard, a science-based<br />

website, and <strong>climate</strong> economy journalist<br />

for The Correspondent.<br />

33


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

The plant-based<br />

meat market is<br />

starting to sizzle<br />

in Europe<br />

There is a<br />

question as<br />

to whether<br />

Europe is<br />

actually<br />

using Africa<br />

as a guinea<br />

pig.”<br />

Faten Aggad<br />

Drivers of this plant-based shift tend to be young,<br />

liberal, educated, female, city-dwelling, and<br />

environmentally-conscious, but not necessarily<br />

vegan or vegetarian<br />

By BJÖRN JÓHANN ÓLAFSSON<br />

Meat alternatives aren’t going anywhere.<br />

According to a new market report commissioned<br />

by the Good Food Institute<br />

Europe and compiled by Nielson IQ,<br />

the European plant-based food market<br />

is now worth over €2bn, having grown<br />

every year since 2020.<br />

The report, which analysed markets in<br />

13 EU countries, primarily western and<br />

central Europe, also found that plantbased<br />

dairy is the most widely consumed<br />

alternative product, with the animal-free<br />

seafood category growing the fastest.<br />

Germany, the UK, and Italy are the leading<br />

consumers, while the Netherlands,<br />

Germany, and Sweden spend the most<br />

per capita.<br />

This news shouldn’t come as a surprise<br />

to anyone who’s kept their eye on grocery<br />

store aisles. A decade ago, vegetarians<br />

were limited to limp lentil burgers or<br />

tofu nuggets. Now, meat-abstainers are<br />

swimming in options – Spanish brand<br />

Heura boasts vegan chorizo in multiple<br />

flavors, landmark British fast-casual<br />

chain Gregg’s sports vegan sausages, and<br />

the Netherlands is home to over an array<br />

of over 60 plant-based companies.<br />

Still, it’s unlikely that plant-based meats<br />

will surpass animal protein anytime soon<br />

– across the continent, animal farming<br />

still dwarfs meat substitutes by about 100<br />

to 1 – but the increasing growth of the<br />

plant-based market is nothing to scoff at.<br />

The category growth comes at a time<br />

Vegan sausages. Plant-based food proponents<br />

often call themselves ‘flexitarians’, ‘reducitarians’<br />

or ‘climavores’.<br />

Source: LikeMeat/Unsplash


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

Source: iStockphoto<br />

when meat consumption is stagnant or<br />

falling in many European countries. During<br />

2022, plant-based meat alternatives<br />

grew one percent in unit sales while animal<br />

meat dropped by four percent.<br />

In some European countries, veggie<br />

proteins are already starting to displace<br />

meat. Germany, with its affordable and<br />

convenient plant-based options, has<br />

seen the sector double in just two years’<br />

time while meat consumption steadily<br />

declines. The same story is likely to play<br />

out in other European countries within<br />

this decade – the European Commission<br />

estimates that overall meat consumption<br />

per capita will drop over four percent by<br />

2030.<br />

Young, liberal, urban — and<br />

female<br />

Drivers of this plant-based shift tend<br />

to be young, liberal, educated, female,<br />

city-dwelling, and environmentally-conscious,<br />

but not necessarily vegan or<br />

vegetarian; 90 percent of people who<br />

purchased plant-based meat alternatives<br />

also buy animal meats. Plant-based proponents<br />

would rather call themselves<br />

‘flexitarians’, ‘reducitarians’ or ‘climavores’.<br />

They’re not alone – there’s a growing<br />

movement in Europe to prioritize sustainable<br />

food choices. Nearly 60 percent<br />

of Europeans consider <strong>climate</strong> <strong>change</strong><br />

when purchasing food.<br />

Recently, the EU has been cracking down<br />

on greenwashing in agribusiness and<br />

seeks to clarify environmental labels on<br />

food packaging.<br />

Meat, especially beef, is one of the least<br />

sustainable foods on the market today,<br />

responsible for at least 14 percent of<br />

global greenhouse gas emissions. According<br />

to environmental analysis from<br />

Greenpeace, the European Union needs<br />

to lower its meat consumption by over<br />

70 percent by 2030 in order to help stall<br />

<strong>climate</strong> <strong>change</strong>. That would entail about<br />

500 grams or so of meat per week, about<br />

one beef patty or less per day.<br />

Plants, even processed plant-based products,<br />

don’t commit the same <strong>climate</strong> sins.<br />

In a meta-analysis of 16 peer-reviewed<br />

studies, researchers at the University of<br />

Bath found that plant-based products<br />

emitted up to 120 times less greenhouse<br />

gases as compared to beef and up to 10<br />

times less when compared to pork. They<br />

also use far less land, energy, and water.<br />

The plant-based meat companies that<br />

are thriving are doing so because they<br />

can successfully relay this message to<br />

eco-conscious consumers. Heura, a popular<br />

Spanish brand, is particularly adept<br />

at tapping into this – their billboards and<br />

ads frequently tout the carbon footprint<br />

of meat to directly appeal to consumers’<br />

ethical sensitivities. And so far, the<br />

message seems to be working – the Barcelona-based<br />

company reported revenue<br />

growth of 80 percent in 2022.<br />

The healthiness of plant-based products<br />

is also a major draw – nearly 60 percent<br />

of Europeans who eat plant-based products<br />

are doing so for the supposed health<br />

benefits. Swapping red and processed<br />

meat out for plant-based alternatives can<br />

be helpful for reducing risk of heart disease<br />

and cancer.<br />

Critics of plant-based meats often point<br />

to the long ingredient lists and decry the<br />

products as ‘ultra-processed’. And while<br />

it’s certainly a stretch to call plant-based<br />

burgers a ‘health’ food, most health professionals<br />

would argue that they’re somewhat<br />

healthier than the foods they’re intended<br />

to replace – after all, few people<br />

are eating burgers for the health benefits.<br />

Still, the meat industry often runs ads<br />

pointing out the artificial additives in<br />

plant-based products, providing another<br />

PR hurdle for alternative protein brands<br />

to overcome.<br />

It’s not all rosy for the industry. Marketing<br />

of the plant-based products have<br />

resulted in unexpected challenges, like<br />

what they can even call their products.<br />

While the European meat industry failed<br />

to ban the words “veggie burger” in 2020<br />

– claiming the term misled consumers<br />

– they’re still debating language. Plantbased<br />

milks must market themselves<br />

with vague phrases like “oat drink” or<br />

“soy milk alternative”.<br />

Cost is still a major barrier for those on<br />

the fence. In almost all EU countries,<br />

plant-based products still cost more than<br />

their meat counterparts, sometimes by<br />

large margins. In Spain, a vegan chorizo<br />

will cost you about a euro more, while a<br />

classic British mince will cost an extra £4<br />

[€4.5] a kilo.<br />

Plant-based meat companies are still<br />

chasing after price parity – the economic<br />

tipping point when a soy-protein burger<br />

is the same cost or cheaper than a<br />

regular hamburger patty. Last year, the<br />

Netherlands made headlines when it<br />

was revealed that plant protein alternatives<br />

were now universally cheaper than<br />

meat. It should be no surprise that, even<br />

though only one percent of their population<br />

is vegan, the Dutch have been reducing<br />

their meat consumption for over<br />

10 years now. Most countries can’t claim<br />

the same.<br />

Until labgrown<br />

meat<br />

hits shelves,<br />

plant-based<br />

alternatives<br />

will likely<br />

continue to<br />

sizzle.<br />

Inflation is helping to close the price<br />

gap between imitation and animal meat.<br />

Within the last few years, meat’s costs<br />

have been hiked up by about 11 percent,<br />

while veggie burgers’ costs barely<br />

budged. Most analysts believe price parity<br />

will occur throughout Europe sometime<br />

this decade — although the jury is<br />

still out on exactly when.<br />

While the pea and soy burgers have<br />

come a long way in the flavour department,<br />

not all of them are tasty enough<br />

to sway consumers. Some products were<br />

rushed to market, eager to cash in on the<br />

plant-based craze before R&D had finished<br />

creating an enticing product. Many<br />

consumers are unlikely to ever try any<br />

soy burgers, associating them with gross,<br />

processed food.<br />

Some people will likely never become<br />

convinced. For many, meat offers a sense<br />

of comfort and tradition that will never<br />

be replicated by soy protein. Plant-based<br />

products consistently poll poorly among<br />

older, rural, and conservative EU residents.<br />

But within a few years, another contender<br />

will likely arrive on the European alternative<br />

protein scene: cultivated meat, an<br />

innovative and sustainable food grown<br />

from the cells of animals in bioreactors.<br />

Cultivated meat still isn’t approved for<br />

sale in the EU, so don’t expect to see<br />

lab-grown chicken breasts on your local<br />

menu anytime soon. But the industry’s<br />

progress in Singapore, Israel, and the<br />

United States, and the UN’s Food and<br />

Agriculture Organization’s cautious endorsement<br />

of the products’ safety earlier<br />

in 2023, indicates that a cultured meat<br />

factory will likely land in Europe within<br />

a few years.<br />

Even though the new-fangled invention<br />

is already facing pushback from Italian<br />

lawmakers, the product polls surprisingly<br />

well, especially among carnivorous men.<br />

The product resembles animal meat far<br />

more than a pea-based Beyond Burger<br />

in taste and texture, which means it may<br />

be able to capture audiences who aren’t<br />

convinced by plant-based imitations.<br />

But until lab-grown meat hits shelves,<br />

plant-based alternatives will likely continue<br />

to sizzle, finding a home within a<br />

changing Europe.<br />

About<br />

Björn Jóhann Ólafsson<br />

Björn Jóhann Ólafsson is a researcher,<br />

writer, journalist and<br />

editor for Sentient Media, specialising<br />

in <strong>climate</strong>, agriculture, and<br />

animals.<br />

37


EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

Fermenting<br />

George Monbiot: ‘Precision fermentation’ has<br />

the potential to do two astonishing things.<br />

Source: Wikimedia<br />

a revolution<br />

I believe precision fermentation is the most important<br />

environmental technology ever developed. It might be<br />

all that now stands between us and Earth systems collapse.<br />

By GEORGE MONBIOT<br />

What do we do now? After 27 COP summits<br />

and no effective action, it seems that<br />

the real purpose was to keep us talking.<br />

If governments were serious about preventing<br />

<strong>climate</strong> breakdown, there would<br />

have been no Cops 2-27. The major issues<br />

would have been resolved at Cop1, as<br />

the ozone depletion crisis was at a single<br />

summit in Montreal.<br />

Precision<br />

fermentation<br />

is a refined<br />

form of<br />

brewing, a<br />

means of<br />

multiplying<br />

microbes<br />

to create<br />

specific<br />

products.<br />

Nothing can now be achieved without<br />

mass protest, whose aim, like that of protest<br />

movements before us, is to reach the<br />

critical mass that triggers a social tipping<br />

point. But, as every protester knows, this<br />

is only part of the challenge. We also need<br />

to translate our demands into action,<br />

which requires political, economic, cultural<br />

and technological <strong>change</strong>. All are<br />

necessary, none are sufficient. Only together<br />

can they amount to the <strong>change</strong> we<br />

need to see.<br />

Let’s focus for a moment on technology.<br />

Specifically, what might be the most important<br />

environmental technology ever<br />

developed: precision fermentation.<br />

Precision fermentation is a refined form<br />

of brewing, a means of multiplying microbes<br />

to create specific products. It has<br />

been used for many years to produce<br />

drugs and food additives. But now, in several<br />

labs and a few factories, scientists are<br />

developing what could be a new generation<br />

of staple foods.<br />

The developments I find most interesting<br />

use no agricultural feedstocks. The<br />

microbes they breed feed on hydrogen<br />

39


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

or methanol – which can be made with<br />

renewable electricity – combined with<br />

water, carbon dioxide and a very small<br />

amount of fertiliser.<br />

They produce a flour that contains roughly<br />

60 percent protein, a much higher<br />

concentration than any major crop can<br />

achieve (soy beans contain 37 percent,<br />

chick peas, 20 percent).<br />

When they are bred to produce specific<br />

proteins and fats, they can create much<br />

better replacements than plant products<br />

for meat, fish, milk and eggs. And they<br />

have the potential to do two astonishing<br />

things.<br />

The food ‘footprint’<br />

The first is to shrink to a remarkable degree<br />

the footprint of food production.<br />

One paper estimates that precision fermentation<br />

using methanol needs 1,700<br />

times less land than the most efficient<br />

agricultural means of producing protein:<br />

soy grown in the US. This suggests<br />

it might use, respectively, 138,000 and<br />

157,000 times less land than the least efficient<br />

means: beef and lamb production.<br />

Depending on the electricity source and<br />

recycling rates, it can also enable radical<br />

reductions in water use and greenhouse<br />

gas emissions. Because the process is contained,<br />

it avoids the spillover of waste and<br />

chemicals into the wider world caused by<br />

farming.<br />

If livestock production is replaced by this<br />

technology, it creates what could be the<br />

last major opportunity to prevent Earth<br />

systems collapse, namely ecological restoration<br />

on a massive scale.<br />

By rewilding the vast tracts now occupied<br />

by livestock (by far the greatest of all human<br />

land uses) or by the crops used to feed<br />

them – as well as the seas being trawled or<br />

gill-netted to destruction – and restoring<br />

forests, wetlands, savannahs, wild grasslands,<br />

mangroves, reefs and sea floors, we<br />

could both stop the sixth great extinction<br />

and draw down much of the carbon we<br />

have released into the atmosphere.<br />

The second astonishing possibility is<br />

breaking the extreme dependency of<br />

many nations on food shipped from distant<br />

places.<br />

Nations in the Middle East, north Africa,<br />

the Horn of Africa and Central America<br />

do not possess sufficient fertile land or<br />

water to grow enough food of their own.<br />

In other places, especially parts of sub-Saharan<br />

Africa, a combination of soil degradation,<br />

population growth and dietary<br />

<strong>change</strong> cancels out any gains in yield. But<br />

all the nations most vulnerable to food<br />

insecurity are rich in something else: sunlight.<br />

This is the feedstock required to sustain<br />

food production based on hydrogen<br />

and methanol.<br />

Precision fermentation is at the top of its<br />

price curve, and has great potential for<br />

steep reductions. Farming multicellular<br />

organisms (plants and animals) is at the<br />

bottom of its price curve: it has pushed<br />

these creatures to their limits, and sometimes<br />

beyond. If production is distributed<br />

(which I believe is essential), every town<br />

could have an autonomous microbial<br />

brewery, making cheap protein-rich foods<br />

tailored to local markets. This technology<br />

could, in many nations, deliver food security<br />

more effectively than farming can.<br />

There are four main objections.<br />

The second objection is that these flours<br />

could be used to make ultra-processed<br />

foods. Yes, like wheat flour, they could.<br />

But they can also be used radically to reduce<br />

the processing involved in making<br />

substitutes for animal products, especially<br />

if the microbes are gene-edited to produce<br />

specific proteins.<br />

This brings us to the third objection.<br />

There are major problems with certain genetically<br />

modified crops such as Roundup<br />

Ready maize, whose main purpose was to<br />

enlarge the market for a proprietary herbicide,<br />

and the dominance of the company<br />

that produced it.<br />

But GM microbes have been used uncontroversially<br />

in precision fermentation<br />

since the 1970s to produce insulin, the<br />

rennet substitute chymosin and vitamins.<br />

There is a real and terrifying genetic contamination<br />

crisis in the food industry, but<br />

it arises from business as usual: the spread<br />

of antibiotic resistance genes from livestock<br />

slurry tanks, into the soil and thence<br />

into the food chain and the living world.<br />

GM microbes paradoxically offer our best<br />

hope of stopping genetic contamination.<br />

The fourth objection has more weight:<br />

the potential for these new technologies<br />

to be captured by a few corporations. The<br />

risk is real and we should engage with it<br />

now, demanding a new food economy<br />

that’s radically different from the existing<br />

one, in which extreme consolidation has<br />

already taken place.<br />

damage their health (it doesn’t), but who<br />

do own a woodburning stove, which does.<br />

We defend the old and revile the new.<br />

Much of the time, it should be the other<br />

way around.<br />

I’ve given my support to a new campaign,<br />

called Reboot Food, to make the case for<br />

the new technologies that could help pull<br />

us out of our disastrous spiral. We hope to<br />

ferment a revolution.<br />

This article was first published in the<br />

Guardian on 26 November 2022, and<br />

subsequently on George Monbiot’s<br />

website, www.monbiot.com.<br />

Pickled beetroot. 'Precision fermenation' is simply<br />

a high-tech iteration of a very old idea<br />

Source: The Matter of Food/Unsplash<br />

The first is “Yuck, bacteria!” Well, tough,<br />

you eat them with every meal. In fact, we<br />

deliberately introduce live ones into some<br />

of our foods, such as cheese and yoghurt.<br />

As for disgusting, take a look at the intensive<br />

animal factories that produce most of<br />

the meat and eggs we eat and the slaughterhouses<br />

that serve them, both of which<br />

the new technology could make redundant.<br />

But this is not an argument against the<br />

technology itself, any more than the dangerous<br />

concentration in the global grain<br />

trade (90 percent of it in the hands of four<br />

corporations) is an argument against trading<br />

grain, without which billions would<br />

starve.<br />

The real sticking point, I believe, is neophobia.<br />

I know people who won’t own<br />

a microwave oven, as they believe it will<br />

About<br />

George Monbiot<br />

George Monbiot is an environmentalist,<br />

author, and columnist<br />

for The Guardian.<br />

41


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

Why your next<br />

meat dish may<br />

have been<br />

nowhere near<br />

an animal<br />

Europe is now looking whether cell-based meat should<br />

be on the menu<br />

By CLAIRE TURRELL<br />

Plump sun-dried tomatoes, springy pasta<br />

and crispy chicken… To the uninitiated,<br />

this looked like a regular bistro dish, but<br />

what’s different about this bowl of pasta,<br />

is that the chicken didn’t originate from<br />

a farm, but a lab. Huber’s Butchery in the<br />

upmarket enclave of Dempsey, Singapore,<br />

is the first butcher in the world to<br />

sell cultivated meat.<br />

Today I was getting a glimpse of the future.<br />

On 19 December 2020, the Singaporean<br />

government gave the US company<br />

Eat Just approval to sell cultivated<br />

meat to the public. Eat Just’s Good Meat<br />

chicken has been served at hotels, private<br />

members’ clubs and street food stalls, but<br />

by serving it at this bistro, this is the first<br />

time it has been sold by a butcher.<br />

Chef Chong Jun Xiang, who worked at<br />

the private members club 1880 in Singapore,<br />

is now tasked with introducing this<br />

next generation ingredient to diners. The<br />

R&D chef is usually working at a kitchen<br />

in Bedok above Eat Just’s manufacturing<br />

facility, but today he is whipping up a<br />

vegetable orecchiette topped with crispy<br />

cultivated chicken in the kitchen of Huber’s<br />

bistro ready for me to test.<br />

The Good Meat factory<br />

Source: Eat Just


EATING AWAY CLIMATE CHANGE?<br />

Unlike brands such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat,<br />

which create plant-based alternatives, Good Meat chicken is<br />

real meat. This cell-based meat or cultivated meat, as the industry<br />

prefers to call it, is created by taking cells from animals,<br />

placing them in a bioreactor (like a microbrewery) to create real<br />

meat.<br />

Some may baulk at the idea of meat originating in a lab, but the<br />

United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change<br />

has given its backing by naming it as a key way to reduce greenhouse<br />

gas emissions in food production. Researchers at Oxford<br />

University found that cultured meat uses 99 percent less land,<br />

96 percent less water and 45 percent less energy to produce<br />

than conventional meat.<br />

Singapore’s citizens are already enjoying this 21st-century food,<br />

and it looks like the United States could be the next as the US<br />

Food and Drug Administration declared that it was safe for consumption.<br />

While cultured meat can’t yet be sold in Europe, it is<br />

a hot topic in Brussels. In May the European Food Safety Authority<br />

hosted an academic conference focused on assessing the<br />

risks of cell-based food.<br />

It was in Europe the first cell-based dish was created. In 2013,<br />

professor Mark Post of Maastricht University, Netherlands, unveiled<br />

a hamburger that had been created in a lab. The €250,000<br />

price tag stopped the five ounce hamburger from immediately<br />

featuring on menus, but it showed it could be done. It paved<br />

the way for brands such as Eat Just, whose chicken dishes sell in<br />

Singapore for a more palatable SGD$18 [€12.20].<br />

Good Meat chicken is real meat. This cell-based meat or cultivated meat, as the industry prefers to call it, is created by<br />

taking cells from animals, placing them in a bioreactor (like a microbrewery) to create real meat<br />

Source: Eat Just<br />

While European companies can’t yet sell cultured meat to the<br />

public, it hasn’t slowed the continent’s rate of investment.<br />

While the United States is the biggest investor in cell-based<br />

food (€1.54bn), followed by Israel (€537.91m), the Netherlands<br />

comes in third spending €140.45m, and the UK and France are<br />

also in the top 10.<br />

This ingredient is so rare it was enough<br />

to make one New York chef take a 19-<br />

hour flight to Singapore to try it. In the<br />

short time Good Meat chicken has been<br />

on sale in Singapore, it has already gone<br />

through three iterations – a spongy looking<br />

chicken nugget, a larger more fibrous<br />

piece of chicken and now the chicken is<br />

three times the size, with the same fibrous<br />

meat you would find on a chicken<br />

thigh.<br />

When Chong presented me with the<br />

dish, the pasta was al dente, the sundried<br />

tomatoes and broccoli gave the<br />

dish a punch of colour, and the sliced<br />

deep-fried chicken had a golden outer<br />

layer. When I cut it with a knife, the fibres<br />

tore apart like farmed chicken, and<br />

when I first tasted it, I could have been<br />

fooled that this was like any farm chicken<br />

I’d eaten. There was an aftertaste, but if<br />

this is what Good Meat has achieved in<br />

this small amount of time, who knows<br />

where it will be in even 12 months?<br />

The reason why it tasted like real meat,<br />

is because it is. Chong said he had as<br />

many questions as anyone else when he<br />

was told about cell-based meat. “Initially<br />

I was sceptical, [but] when you understand<br />

how it’s made it really is just a piece<br />

of chicken,” said Chong.<br />

While cultured<br />

meat can’t yet be<br />

sold in Europe, it<br />

is a hot topic in<br />

Brussels.<br />

Cultured meat companies working on everything from cellbased<br />

fish sticks to foie gras are also launching across Europe,<br />

waiting for legislation to <strong>change</strong>. There’s Bluu Seafood from<br />

Germany, which is creating cell-based fish sticks; Gourmey<br />

from Paris creating cell-based foie gras; and Mirai from Switzerland,<br />

which is focusing on beef. Dutch companies Meatable<br />

and Mosa Meat (where Mark Post now works) are working on<br />

pork and beef.<br />

In preparation for cell-based meat being sold in Europe, Mosa<br />

Meat has also not only launched the world’s largest cultivated<br />

meat facility in Maastricht, Netherlands, but joined with partners<br />

in Singapore. Maarten Bosch, Mosa Meat CEO said: “The<br />

ability to produce our beef on two continents will also reduce<br />

45


ALT-PROTEIN<br />

the carbon footprint associated with<br />

shipping meat across the globe.”<br />

As a small island-state, Singapore can<br />

pivot faster than most countries. But as<br />

it imports 90 percent of its food, food<br />

security has long been on its radar. The<br />

pandemic couldn’t have helped but give<br />

it a sharper focus and the country has set<br />

itself the goal of producing 30 percent of<br />

its food by 2030, which means that is has<br />

become a hub for food tech.<br />

For cultivated meat to be successful,<br />

the Singaporean public needs to be on<br />

board. A YouGov survey in 2018 found<br />

that while 51 percent of Singaporeans<br />

said they probably wouldn’t eat artificial<br />

meat, a third of millennials said<br />

they would happily consume it. Yet,<br />

two months after Good Meat started<br />

selling cultivated chicken in Singapore,<br />

Singaporean cell-based shellfish company<br />

Shiok Meats surveyed the public in<br />

March 2021, and found that 78 percent<br />

of Singaporeans said they were open to<br />

eating cell-based seafood.<br />

To remove the ‘yuk’ factor associated<br />

with cell-based food, Eat Just founder<br />

Josh Tetrick said that the best is to get<br />

people to try it. Tetrick is choosing to<br />

make a small loss on each $18 dish that he<br />

sells, just so he can get it into the hands<br />

of consumers. Tetrick disrupted the food<br />

industry with a plant-based egg, but he<br />

said that with so many meat-eaters, you<br />

need cultured meat as well to really move<br />

the needle. “Plant-based meats have<br />

done a really solid job of getting tens<br />

of millions of consumers to move from<br />

conventional to something that is a lot<br />

better. But we really think that is a ceiling<br />

to plant-based meat. I really wish I didn’t<br />

believe that, but I do,” said Tetrick.<br />

While cell-based meat is impressive, UKbased<br />

dietitian Meaghan Greenwood<br />

said that cell-based meat may not contain<br />

everything that we need for human<br />

health. “It may be missing some of the<br />

essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins<br />

[that are] important for human<br />

By 2050,<br />

70 percent<br />

more food<br />

will be<br />

needed to<br />

fulfil the<br />

demand of<br />

the growing<br />

population.”<br />

Benjamin Horton<br />

health,” said Greenwood. “As the technology<br />

for producing cell-based meat<br />

continues to develop, it is likely that any<br />

nutritional differences between cellbased<br />

and conventional meat will be<br />

minimised.”<br />

Andre Huber, executive director of Singapore’s<br />

Huber’s Butchery has followed<br />

Good Meat’s journey from the start. It<br />

wasn’t until the second-generation Swiss<br />

butcher tasted the third version of the<br />

cultivated chicken, he agreed to sell it in<br />

his restaurant. “The texture [of the nugget]<br />

was too mushy. It wasn’t as fibrous as<br />

chicken. But the latest version is almost<br />

90 percent like real chicken,” said Huber.<br />

Huber hopes that cultivated chicken will<br />

work alongside conventional meat and<br />

people in the future can use both in their<br />

diet. “We are selling it once a week [in the<br />

bistro] and going to ramp it up to twice<br />

a week,” said Huber. “Hopefully, when<br />

the new factory is ready and churning<br />

out the orders, we might sell it over the<br />

butcher counter as well.”<br />

While Eat Just’s plans are big, the supply<br />

is holding them back. Huber’s bistro<br />

only has enough stock to serve a handful<br />

of diners. When the Singapore facility<br />

opens, it is expected to produce tens<br />

of thousands of pounds a year of meat,<br />

but this still won’t be enough to service a<br />

population of 5.9 million people that has<br />

chicken rice as one of its national dishes.<br />

Though something needs to be done<br />

for a global population that is expected<br />

to rise from eight billion to 9.5 billion by<br />

2050, said professor Benjamin Horton<br />

of the Earth Observatory of Singapore.<br />

“By 2050, 70 percent more food will be<br />

needed to fulfil the demand of the growing<br />

population [and] as a consequence,<br />

more efficient ways of protein production<br />

must be developed to sustain the<br />

growing global population,” said Horton.<br />

“Cultured meat is a sustainable alternative<br />

for consumers who want to be more<br />

responsible, but do not wish to <strong>change</strong><br />

the composition of their diet.”<br />

About<br />

Claire Turrell<br />

Claire Turrell is an award-winning<br />

freelance journalist based in Singapore.<br />

Her work has been published<br />

by Insider, National Geographic,<br />

The Guardian and BBC.<br />

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