MARKETING the nutritional value of red meat products was the answer to competing against alternative proteins, producers were told at the recent Southern Australia Livestock Research Council 2022 conference.
Faced with challenges like plant and cell-based proteins, greenhouse gas and sustainability issues, Monash University adjunct professor Paul Wood said livestock industries had to start talking about their products’ nutritional value.
“What’s the nutritional value of the product we produce, versus the environmental footprint?
“And that environmental footprint won’t just be carbon, won’t just be water, biodiversity – this (nutritional profile) is the answer I think for the livestock industries,” Prof. Paul Wood said at the Livestock 2022 conference in Melbourne.
“Because we will always be better off if you look at nutritional value, because we outstrip on so many nutritional protocols and if we look at in the environment, not just carbon.
“So I think this is the way that we should market our products in the future and it’s quite doable.”
“So there are ways to do this that, I honestly think, in the long run, this is how we should present.”
Prof. Wood said there were 1300 complementary protein start-ups, and he believed red meat companies investing in alternative protein production were making a “side bet.”
“You will hear people say JBS has just put $100 million into a cell-based meat.
“It’s a side bet, in case it happens to work, they want to be in control.”
He discussed the various forms of alternative protein products on the market, including the Australian pea-based V2 burger, the rapidly expanding but scale-dependent insect-protein market for dog treats, livestock and poultry feed, and fungi protein as ‘mushroom steaks.’
He said the issue with plant-based protein is matching taste and texture and some products “were getting very close to matching meat.”
“But they are probably never going to ever beat … they’re just trying to get close to the taste and texture of the (real meat) products that you (livestock farmers) produce.”
Prof. Wood said the nutritional profile of meat is probably going to be the hardest thing for the alternative protein products to match.
“Because no matter what they do they are not going to match the nutritional profile (of meat)
“When I fronted the Senate inquiry on food labelling, our argument was forget what’s on the front of the packet – the big lie is on the back of the packet.”
He said the alternative protein products are claiming the same nutritional value of meat by adding vitamins and minerals.
“It doesn’t mean they are absorbed.
“Heme iron from livestock (meat) is absorbed seven times better than from a plant,” he said.
“This is the biggest problem they’ve got, is nutritional profile.”
Doubt about future of plant-based proteins
Prof. Wood said investment growth in companies with plant-based products like Beyond and Oatly had both lost 80 percent of their market value in the last year – a combined $20 billion loss in valuation. He said it was no longer good enough to base sustainability claims on “what they are not” — ie. not using water or land – and there are now prosecutions in the UK on unsupported nutritional claims. Sustainable animal-based branded products are also emerging, he said.
“So with all the hype about this, this is the figure, plant-based meat accounts for 1.4pc of the total USA meat category.”
Prof Wood cast doubt on the conclusion of the RethinkX report, that said by 2030 the number of cows in the U.S. will have fallen by 50pc and the cattle farming industry will be all but bankrupt, with all other livestock industries suffering a similar fate. This was based on the advent of precision fermentation and cell-based meats, including using 3D printing.
However, he said there was only one licensed cell-based meat product on the market – 70pc chicken cell 30pc plant-based product in a Singapore restaurant.
“I don’t really call that a commercial success.”
Prof. Wood said cell-based technology is very expensive and although billions of dollars was being invested, the energy-intensive operations needed to reach scale, and the products need nutritional value, taste and texture.
“The concept of taking high technology and competing in a commodity market to me is a business 101 failure.”
He said Oxford University had concluded that unless the cell-based operations used renewable energy they would not be more sustainable.
“This is not my figure, this is their own figure – the costs of manufacture have to come down over 1000-fold from where it is today for them to be anywhere close and they’ve got to hope that they match on price, taste, texture and all the other things.
Precision fermentation involves using microorganisms such as yeast to produce specific enzymes or protein ingredients that are harvested. Prof. Wood said there are large scale facilities around the world, though not yet in Australia. Products using this process included the Impossible Burger, ice cream, ‘milk’ and chicken free ‘egg whites’.
“It’s coming, but most of these are at relatively small levels.”
But he said concerns about the use of the recombinant technology and any genetically-modified ingredients is emerging, especially in Europe.
Recognising the greenhouse emission challenge for the livestock industries, Prof. Wood said they had the ability to do something about it to bring down emissions per kilogram, “and we need to.”
“Many of these other industries can’t do anything, we’ve got all these options.”
The options included use of genomics, methanogens and red seaweed is coming, he said.
Vegan splinter groups and labelling
Prof. Wood said he didn’t expect governments would ban the use of labels referring to meat by alternative protein companies, although the Alternative Proteins Council has recommended that animal pictures be taken off labels.
“We will probably see those come off just voluntarily.
“I don’t think the government will move to ban the use of terms like meat or pork, it’s just a step too far,” he said.
Prof. Wood said the alternative protein and vegan product industry is also fragmenting vegans and vegetarians around concerns about genetically-modified ingredient use and animal cell-based products.
“These technologies are splitting them as to where they sit.
“They were all comfortable about what a vegan was and what a vegetarian is,” he said.
“There is a strong correlation between the vegans and anti-animal and anti-GMO.
“So you’ve got vegan splinter groups now going ‘well maybe we are just going to have to accept GMOs because then we will get rid of the animals’.
“It’s actually fragmenting the whole structure about what’s a vegan, what’s a vegetarian,” he said.
“It’s going to be really fun to see what happens in this space.”