Editorial: Protein prognostication | Farmtario

Feeding the world with enough protein is one of humanity’s challenges in the next few decades, and there’s room for lots of it to be produced, including from animals, plants and cultured meat proteins.

The big question is what proportion of the market will be filled by which and what the economics will look like for livestock, plants and fermentation-created meat.

Cultured meat is the production of meat proteins through fermentation in a vat. It starts with cells from animals and their replication is controlled until some volume of meat is created. It’s known by several terms including lab-grown meat, cultured meat and cell-based meat.

There are many variables in play related to cultured meat and it’s difficult to divine the future. Mark Juhasz, the principal and founder of Harvest Insights, spoke at the opening banquet for Class 19 of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program and talked about the many questions around cultured meat.

The technology is maturing and there’s little question that cultured meat proteins will soon be among consumers’ protein options. 

Perfect Day is a company in California already selling dairy products that don’t come from a cow but contain the same proteins.

An Israeli company is scaling up to what it calls commercial levels of cultured meat production. 

A recent report from Genome Ontario points to the need for Ontario to build infrastructure so the province and Canada will get their piece of the pie when cultured proteins reach the market stage.

There’s lots of money going into alternative proteins. There’s a huge and effective national strategy for plant-based proteins under Protein Industries Canada.

Plant-based protein has floundered a bit during the pandemic and has reached a plateau. Its rapid year-over-year growth stopped in 2021. 

Juhasz quoted Michael McCain, president of Maple Leaf Foods, who said recently that there’s been an “unexpected deceleration” in plant-based protein products and there are concerns with the category performance.

That has occurred at the same time as beef demand in 2020 in Canada hit its highest point in 30 years (other than similarly good demand in 2016).

It’s unknown whether plant proteins have hit market saturation. I doubt it, as there’s lot of innovation happening in that space. 

A lot of money is being invested in the future of plant-based proteins. This year’s stagnant market growth could be a blip in a 30-year trend. However, there’s obviously strong demand for meat-related proteins and that will likely continue. 

That brings us back to cultured proteins. Vast amounts of money are going into cultured protein businesses. All the major meat processors, including global leaders like Tyson and JBS, are in the game. The Canadian Pension Plan and the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan have invested in cultured meat companies outside of Canada.

We’ll see where the hype leads and if it overcomes public skepticism. 

Juhasz says there’s significant public hesitancy toward the adoption of cultured proteins. They will have a long adoption process, but I expect they will find some use. 

I don’t expect we’ll be eating many steaks or pork loin roasts made from a fermentation vat but there could be a significant proportion in taco meat and chili and other dishes where undifferentiated meat is used for protein.

The cost of cultured protein is currently prohibitive for it to compete with meat from animals but that will likely change to a more competitive scenario in coming years.

The story around cultured meat generates concern for those who make their living raising meat from livestock, but I expect the total need for protein in the world will continue to provide demand for plant, livestock and some form of cultured protein into the future.

Source: Farmtario.com