“One of the things we want to do is to take the pressure off land and sea for feed,” said Simon Billing, principal sustainability advisor, Forum for the Future, a not for profit organization that is facilitating that collaborative effort by food manufacturers, retailers, feed firms and NGOs.
The Protein Challenge 2040 is the culmination of many months of research and workshops aimed at trying to find answers to the question of how to feed nine billion people enough protein by 2040, in a way that is healthy, affordable and good for the environment, he said.
The coalition’s steering group involves the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Firmenich, Volac, The Hershey Company, Quorn, Target and Waitrose.
“Those companies recognize there is a fundamental need for change. We can’t continue to rely on existing feedstocks. And it is no longer enough to find more sustainable ways of growing a crop, it’s also about finding alternatives and tackling demand,” said Billing.
He agrees developments are already underway in the space in terms of novel feed sources for aquaculture and livestock production. “But the pace needs to step up,” he told us.
The Future is Now?
The coalition is excited by work done to date around microalgae, bacteria and insect derived meal.
"It is incredible how the discussion around insect meal has evolved in the period from when we started scoping our project 18 months ago to today. We see real momentum behind that sector now," said Billing.
Some other projects said to have merit include Calysta's methane gas to feed protein production model and an initiative undertaken by Findus.
That multinational fish manufacturer said it has committed to meet all of its shrimp supply needs in Sweden from a sustainable start-up company named Vegafish.
“Vegafish uses a ‘biofloc’ method, where microorganisms introduced to a shrimp pond digest shrimp excrement, and are in turn ingested as a protein feed source for the shrimps. Biofloc ponds can rear 10 to 40 times more than conventional shrimp farming,” noted the Protein Challenge 2040 summary report.
The coalition, said Billing, is also interested in converting low value waste into high value protein sources.
The forum is now calling for catalyzed action and increased investment in sustainable feed projects to enable transformation of the protein system on a global scale.
The search is on for more organizations that can contribute their expertise, resource and supply chain influence in that respect: “Industry must work together on a pre-competitive basis, where necessary, to drive change,” said Billing.
By doing so, he stressed, companies can future proof their business from protein supply chain risks.
Short-term feed targets
By 2018 the steering group, in relation to animal feed, wants to have:
- Brought together a consortium of partners working together on animal feed innovation
- Published a high profile report comparing different sustainable animal feeds to build awareness around the barriers and challenges for scaling, while also spotlighting areas of innovation
- Completed two to three projects which address barriers and challenges for scaling sustainable feed innovation
- Developed a plan to help communicate impacts
But, evidently, reducing the pressure on the global protein system is multi-faceted, said Billing.
Thus, the steering group has identified others areas of high potential for driving significant change across the protein system including increasing the proportion of plant based protein consumption with consumers, closing the protein nutrient loop, developing indigenous plants as protein sources for local communities, scaling up sustainable aquaculture and restoring soil health.
And the stakeholders want to change the conversation around protein: from ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sources towards a better balance of sustainable protein.
“It is also about changing diets and encouraging consumers to eat less meat and more plant based protein such as pulses, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and grains. We will collaborate with food manufacturers and retailers on their future product portfolio in order to hasten that transformation,” said Billing.
The protein forum also plans to influence policymakers to address key hotspots across the system.
“However, first we will try and accelerate innovation in the space. Then, we will address barriers to commercial scalability, and, subsequent to that, we will engage in discussions with regulators,” said Billing.
He recognizes the topic is already firmly on the agenda in some countries, citing the Dutch government’s longstanding commitment to a sustainable global food system, with alternative protein sources as a central priority and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy calling for novel feed inputs as part of its recently published aquaculture strategy.
“There are plenty of ongoing discussions that we intend to build on,” he added.