Alternative proteins: new horizons for novel and traditional food production

Tractor spraying young corn with pesticides

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Background to the TFP challenge

The Transforming Food Production (TFP) programme is investing up to £90 million to help create more resilient, efficient and sustainable food production systems. This sets the UK agriculture sector on a trajectory to realise net zero emissions by 2040.

A number of projects are underway to address current challenges facing the sector. These include:

  • labour availability, such as the Robot Highways and First Fleet projects
  • management and control of pests and pathogens, such as the Spray Saver and Blightout projects
  • optimising agricultural inputs to reduce waste and emissions through data-driven precision agriculture approaches, including the Tuberscan and Opti-beef.

The growth of alternative protein opportunities

More recently, the TFP programme has made some key investments in the alternative protein sector through the Future Food Production Systems competition we ran last year.

The United Nations forecasts a global protein deficiency of 60 million tonnes a year by 2050. Therefore, alternative methods of producing protein are required that can meet these rising global demands, while also reducing environmental impact through more sustainable production systems and practices.

To help address this need, the TFP projects are developing novel approaches to produce new sources of protein, such as:

The aim is for these projects to help take the first steps towards increasing domestic supply and displacing current reliance on imports of soya and fishmeal for the aquaculture and animal feed markets.

A growth in investment

The alternative protein sector has seen significant interest and investment from both the public and private sectors recently. For example the government of Canada is investing around $153 million CAD over five years through the Protein Industries Canada supercluster, to accelerate innovation in the Canadian plant protein sector.

The government funding is leveraging industry match-funding through collaborative projects that will strengthen Canada’s agrifood sector, and support aspirations to become a leader in the global plant-based protein market.

Recent analysis from the Good Food Institute highlights the significant equity investment in plant-based companies during 2020, with $2.1 billion being invested. This is up sizeably from $667 million in 2019.

This uplift was especially striking as it came during a global pandemic, where a total of $3.1 billion was invested across the wider alternative protein sector, which also includes cultivated meats and protein produced via fermentations.

Keeping the UK competitive

Mirroring this international move to support these industries, the TFP programme recently held a workshop in March to learn more about the opportunities and barriers to establishing a competitive UK alternative protein sector.

The workshop focused on projects being supported through the Future Food Production Systems competition. Each share a common goal of demonstrating the technical and economic viability of producing alternative protein at commercial scale.

This is a critical step in developing novel protein sources for the UK market. The establishment of a new industry will be reliant on ensuring consistent, high-quality, year-round supply of new products to complement or replace more traditional sources of protein.

The workshop brought together project partners across the value chain, from:

  • leading UK science-base experts from universities and research institutes
  • innovative SMEs developing new technologies and capabilities
  • feed manufacturers, producers and retailers.

Between this collaborative group of experts, a number of priority areas were identified as being important in establishing a competitive UK alternative protein sector:

  • commercial – including production capacity and market development
  • operational – including workforce development, finance and investment
  • governance – including regulation, legislation, and sector strategy development
  • technical – including research, development and innovation community
  • communications – including consumer engagement and outreach.

For the UK alternative protein sector to continue its growth, a collective commitment to these principles will be key. Our support for the projects and wider innovation will continue to progress as well.

What happens next?

Building on this collaborative breakthrough, it was little surprise that stakeholders agreed regular review and reflection on progress across these priority areas would benefit the projects. Particularly given the synergies and complimentary approaches and markets being taken forward and targeted.

Creating partnerships will also be key to the development of the wider alternative protein ecosystem. By identifying areas of strength from within the science base and industry stakeholders, a framework will be created to support collaboration that will help develop the next new concepts. It will also inform the overarching UK strategy for this research.

Finally, the TFP challenge will aim to ensure the continued economic and technological viability of projects and focus areas. We aim to create lasting engagement and enthusiasm for the concept as it develop, by:

  • looking at additional value beyond feed markets
  • working with consumers and end users on the life cycle and application of products.

To find out more, and learn about some of the ground-breaking projects at the heart of our funding, read about the TFP challenge.

Read the summary report of the alternative proteins workshop (PDF, 6MB).

Last updated: 8 February 2024

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