There’s room on the table: Fostering innovation in the protein industry

protein

Source: Unsplash/Shayda Torabi.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of our time is how we increase food production to meet unprecedented demand as the global population grows. Protein, as an important macronutrient that is critical to almost every bodily function, is an essential part of this. 

Global protein consumption has risen 40% since 2000, with current per capita consumption estimates to be approximately 26kg of protein per year — that’s a lot of eggs, beef, soy and chicken burgers!

This trend is set to continue as with the global population set to grow by 2 billion, reaching 10 billion by 2050. This population growth, coupled with the rising affluence of the rapidly expanding consuming class, means we’re likely to see another surge in protein demand, with global per-capita consumption projected to rise to 33kg in 2025 — that’s a 27% in per capita protein consumption. 

While farmers have been aware of this challenge for some time, most people either understand the implications, or are only just coming to terms with the transformation leap required to meet this need. 

It is why the recent Senate inquiry into meat definitions is perplexing to say the least. With the inquiry’s focus rapidly shifting to food labelling laws, it appears to be working at cross purposes to concerted efforts to address this global challenge, instead threatening additional regulation.

It begs the question: are we focusing on the right challenge? 

Reducing red tape 

For Australia to emerge as a global leader in the supply of protein from all sources — imminently possible — we need to remove obstacles to investment and innovation. The major demand and supply trends highlight that demand is growing with the global protein market estimated to be worth up to $513 billion in 2025, but supply is limited by the simple function of limited landmass. 

With demand outstripping supply for the foreseeable future, to meet this potential, we need to adopt a new mindset for protein. Animal, plant and alternative protein sources are not competitors. 

We need to reduce innovation-limiting ‘red tape’, in particular, for plant and alternative proteins. We need to look beyond the protein supply of the past. To strengthen the overall competitiveness of the country’s food and agribusiness industry, it is vital the market for plant and alternative proteins is nurtured rather than stifled, or threatened through unintended consequences presented by the current Senate Inquiry. 

Instead of curbing innovation, regulation should be focused on realising the opportunities for the industry as a whole.

We know from consultation that regulatory clarity for plant and alternative proteins is needed. We know we need to enhance our domestic manufacturing infrastructure to produce these new protein products, and we know we need to increase the use of domestically produced inputs, potentially replacing imported ingredients.

Actions by government to support these outcomes, rather than those that threaten them, will enable Australia to unlock it’s protein potential.

Banquet sized opportunity: Room for all

The size of the protein pie is big enough for everyone to get a ‘piece’ of the action without adversely affecting each other. It’s not a case of either/or, this is, and needs to be, an AND. Feeding 10 billion people by 2050 will require an ‘all hands-on deck’ approach, with all protein producers working alongside one another, as they have done for centuries, to provide the growing population access to this essential macronutrient. 

Plant and alternative protein are not a threat to traditional animal protein production systems, rather should be seen as a way of diversifying choices for producers, food processors and consumers alike. For example, it offers real and significant opportunities for Australian grain farmers to diversify their production systems to fill the growing global protein deficit in a sustainable way. 

New and enhanced proteins market

Traditional and alternative proteins are (and will continue to be) a major opportunity for the economic growth of Australia’s food and agribusiness sector. Innovation in the this space has the power to transform food as we know it and write the story of the future of food. 

There are so many great examples of tech-driven plant-based proteins that are already in grocery stores, such as Fable Food Co, one of many companies belonging to a network of local producers and entrepreneurs finding new ways to produce delicious protein. 

We’re protein agnostics, having worked with countless SMEs across the  animal, plant and alternative protein spectrum, supporting their business growth. We will continue to do so, and continue to encourage business, industry and government to take actions that unlock our domestic potential rather than inadvertently stifle it.

To fully harness these future gains, Aussie food producers should look to explore deeper collaborations with other players across the value chain such as food processing companies, researchers, nutritionists and technology providers. After all, the opportunities are endless and the size of the pie is big enough for all protein categories. 

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