Would you eat lab-grown meat? How about insects? Or plant-based protein? All are being suggested and developed as answers to population growth, climate change and the growth of negative attitudes towards farming.
“Alternative proteins” have the potential to cause massive disruption in the meat industry, according to The Future of Meat, a February 2018 report published by Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
But what exactly are alternative proteins, and how will they affect New Zealand’s red meat industry?
What is it?
There are braodly three main types of alternative proteins: plant based alternatives to traditional products (e.g. vegan sausages), alternative proteins as an ingredient in more traditional products (e.g. cricket powder etc.), and cultured meats (aka lab-grown meat).
All three are either starting to make an impact on the industry, or look set to in the not too distant future.
For example, products made from plant-based protein are already available in supermarkets and are becoming increasing sophisticated with companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods attracting massive investment.
Insect flour usage is still low in the West, and commercially viable cultured meat still at least 5-10 years away – but they are both on the horizon.
Why even bother?
According to Westpac Economist Anne Boniface in a recent article, “Demand for synthetic meats is being fuelled by changing consumer preferences. The millennial generation in particular are at the forefront of changing diets and behaviours.
“The health benefits of consuming less meat and more plant based proteins are being widely recognised, and animal welfare concerns are garnering much more attention.
“In addition, global population growth, which is putting increasing pressure on productive resources such as land and water, along with environmental concerns are motivating greater government involvement in the sector.”
How will it affect our primary industries?
Anne says it’s not a matter of if, but when, the growing availability of alternative proteins starts to have significant implications for New Zealand’s agriculture sector, but “Nailing down the size, scope and timing of the impact is much trickier.
“Undoubtedly New Zealand farmers will need to continue to get ‘smarter’ with their operations. Most importantly, by advancing technology which reduces the environmental impact of their farms.
“They will need to be able to adapt to changes in consumer demand, tailoring their offerings and helping shape how those preferences change. And they will also need to be able to differentiate their offering on the global stage, leveraging New Zealand’s strong international reputation and trade relationships with strategic economies such as China.
“For New Zealand’s red meat sector to remain viable, not only must consumers want to choose ‘real’ meat. They must also want to choose real New Zealand meat.”