Can a burger made of plants help solve some of the world’s biggest issues?
The global population is increasing at an unsustainable rate. According to UN estimates, by 2050 we will need 70% more food, have 50% less land available, and use 71% more resources globally. The future looks bleak.
However, thanks to advances in cellular biology steps are being taken to find a way to fix these growing problems. According to Chiara Cecchini (Co-founder of Future Food US), a solution may be more ready than we think.
“There are two kinds of agricultural products: acellular products and cellular products. Acellular products are made of organic molecules like proteins and fats and contain no cellular or living material. Cellular products are made of living or once-living cells.”
To put that in plain English, these acellular products may look and taste like meat but are in fact made entirely from plants, not animals. Chiara explains the background to this meatless revolution.
“Alternative proteins are a serious attempt to meet the demand for protein in the human diet while minimizing the detrimental effects caused by livestock production. Meat substitutes from plant based proteins are not new to the market, Textured Vegetable Proteins such as Tofu and Tempeh have been made popular since the 70’s. Later mycoproteins such as Quorn were also on the market. A second generation of such alternatives went further to mimic meat, with products that bleed, smell, look, and taste like meat without having to slaughter an animal.”
Three trailblazing companies lead the way for this food revolution. Impossible Foods, Hampton Creek, and Beyond Meat, all taking a unique approach to creating these “acellular” products. Thanks to a variety of biological tricks like using soy roots to harvest leghemoglobin, to using extracted coconut fat to replicate the cooking process of a normal beef patty, their acellular products are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
Furthermore, according to Chiara, these revolutionary products could yet have a part to play in reducing the global carbon footprint.
“The rise of living standards in different parts of the world has led to an increased consumption and demand for animal protein. As a result, we have seen some profound consequences on the ecosystem. At the moment, livestock accounts for 80% of the agricultural land, and they emit between 8% and 18% of the world’s total greenhouse gases. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a United Nations agency, estimates a relevant rise of animal protein consumption, coming along with an increase of 60% in global agricultural land and 45% in farmers water demand.”
This plant based meat substitute is now gaining serious traction across Asia, with investors seeing its tremendous upside. This was made abundantly clear in Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek’s US$78 million investment in Impossible Foods. Other investments have been made by Li Ka-Shing, as well as UBS Wealth Management who contributed towards Impossible Foods Series D funding. This comes as no surprise considering projected sales figures for the coming years.
“According to Food Navigator, sales of meat alternatives rose more than 6% between 2016 and 2017. In my opinion this trend will continue, moving more and more towards growing faster.”
The demand for the product is clearly there, but what role can these plant based meats play in stopping a potentially catastrophic global food shortage?
In Asia specifically, this is already a pressing issue. To put things into perspective, China has 1.4 billion mouths to feed (20% of the world’s population), with only 7% of the world’s arable land to farm, and with the average family only owning 0.5 hectares of land each. These issues have led to a massive reliance on imports, with figures estimated to total 6 million tons by 2020. With stats like these China’s food crisis isn’t in the future, it’s right now.
An opinion echoed by China’s President Xi Jinping, who has made publicly clear that,
“Food security is an eternal challenge for the country.”
It seems the arrival of plant based meats has come at the perfect time.
Brands such as Beyond Meat, Hampton Creek, and Impossible Foods have had huge public backing over the past few years. Along with the aforementioned investments, they have even received public support from celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and chef David Chang. With the market being valued at an estimated US$554 million at the end of 2017, it appears that this trend is catching fire. Perhaps the meat free revolution is finally here.
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