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From lab-grown meat to plant-based solutions: Global governments bet big on alternative proteins

In 2022, amidst formidable global challenges, an unprecedented milestone was achieved in alternative proteins as governments worldwide significantly increased their investments. The Good Food Institute (GFI) unveiled a groundbreaking report highlighting that public investment in the alternative protein sector doubled during this period. This surge in funding signifies a clear intent among governments to foster innovation, diversify food systems, and embrace modernization.

Despite the momentous increase in public investment, the total global funding for the alternative protein industry reached only about $635 million. While progress has been made, there is still a considerable gap that needs to be bridged to unlock the full potential of this sector.

The GFI’s 2021 Global Innovation Needs Assessment brings to light the immense possibilities offered by the alternative protein industry. With the potential to create 9.8 million jobs and generate $1.1 trillion in economic activity by 2050, this burgeoning sector calls for governments worldwide to bolster their support and allocate approximately $10.1 billion annually for research and development (R&D) and commercialization efforts.

Beyond the compelling economic benefits, the rise of alternative proteins is of paramount importance in addressing the pressing global climate crisis. Saira Weinzimmer, GFI’s policy coordinator, emphasizes that meeting the obligations outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement requires a proactive approach to reducing emissions within the food system, making the growth of alternative proteins a scientific and mathematical necessity.

The appeal of alternative proteins extends far beyond their environmental advantages. By combatting greenhouse gas emissions, these proteins also present a formidable defense against the rise of antimicrobial resistance. Moreover, they offer a cost-effective and abundant source of dietary protein, making significant strides in addressing food security challenges, particularly for an ever-expanding global population.

Recent disruptive events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate-related shocks, have exposed the vulnerabilities of traditional agricultural supply chains. The risks associated with conventional agriculture have heightened the importance of alternative proteins, as they can mitigate the impact of disease outbreaks and enhance supply chain stability, as demonstrated during the production disruptions of 2020 and 2021.

In response to the growing importance of alternative proteins, governments across the globe are taking meaningful steps to bolster the sector. Leading the way in the cultivated protein space, the United States and Singapore have approved the sale of lab-grown meat, positioning themselves as pioneers in this emerging field. Meanwhile, the Netherlands leads Europe, investing $66.2 million in developing a comprehensive cellular agriculture system and becoming the first EU country to authorize taste tests of food items grown directly from animal cells. Israel is also making significant strides in this domain.

Plant-based proteins are not lagging behind, with Denmark at the forefront. The country incentivizes farmers to cultivate protein-rich crops and has invested a historic $99.4 million to bolster the plant-based food sector, aligning its efforts with ambitious climate targets. Canada, too, is driving growth in plant-based protein, with Protein Industries Canada contributing over $127 million to support the development of value-added plant-based products for local farmers.

As governments invest in the alternative protein ecosystem, they serve as models for other countries to emulate on a larger scale. Their efforts to promote food resilience, national security, and economic growth resonate deeply with larger nations like the United States, where the motivation to embrace alternative proteins gains traction.

In times of market downturns, the steadfast support of governments for alternative proteins remains critical. While private markets may experience slowdowns, public funding can be pivotal in driving the transformational change needed to combat the climate crisis. Increased investments in research, infrastructure, and workforce development send a powerful message to investors that alternative proteins are an integral component of a modern bioeconomy.

Despite the current relatively modest size of the alternative protein industry, its growth holds the key to addressing climate change and biodiversity loss. The transition from conventional animal-based meat to plant-based alternatives has the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and foster a sustainable food supply. Investors and governments alike have an instrumental role to play in funding the industry and unlocking its boundless potential, leading us toward a greener, healthier, and more food-secure world.

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