This article was originally published in AIFST Food Australia Journal. Republished with permission.
Current estimates predict that around 70 per cent more food will be required to feed the growing global population which will reach 9.7 billion by 2050.
Asia will be home to more than half the world’s population by 2030 and will have an annual food spend of $8 trillion,1 yet only one-quarter of Asia’s land mass is arable. The challenge will be how to meet this global food gap while maintaining our planet’s health.
Global resource constraints are putting limits on animal-derived protein production. While plant and alternative sources of protein offer an opportunity to fill this gap, we also need to grow our existing high value industries by enhancing their sustainability.
We are also witnessing changing dietary patterns due to concerns over the environment, animal welfare and personal health and nutrition. According to a 2019 Food Frontier report,2 in addition to around 11 per cent of Australians claiming they follow a vegetarian diet, 30 per cent were making a concerted effort to reduce red meat consumption – the so-called ‘flexitarian’ movement.
A study just published in the British Medical Journal examining the environmental impact of our dietary choices estimated that adopting the ‘planetary health’ diet could cut greenhouse gas emissions in Australia by 86 per cent, with a concomitant decrease of 31,000 avoidable deaths every year.3
Ageing population and chronic disease
In Australia, we are also facing challenges in the human health area with an ageing population and rising rates of chronic disease. During the 20 years between 1999 and 2019, the proportion of the population aged 65 years and over increased from 12.3 per cent to 15.9 per cent, and this group is projected to increase more rapidly in the next decade.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, two thirds (67 per cent) of Australian adults were overweight or obese in 2017-18, representing a four per cent increase in three years. Additionally, one quarter of children aged 5-17 years were overweight or obese. Addressing these health issues by delivering optimised nutrition will be critical for the health and prosperity of Australia.
By transitioning from a commodity base to value-added premium protein ingredients, Australian breeders, growers, processors and producers can capitalise on the rapid growth of the protein-based sector and gain access to new export markets for wealth creation.
According to a 2020 AgriFutures report,4 strong global demand for protein will accommodate growth in both animal-based and alternative protein sectors. The report points to an additional opportunity for the protein market in 2030 valued at $19.9 billion, of which $8.9 billion is for animal protein products, $7 billion for plant proteins and $3.1 billion is for alternative protein categories.
Already capitalising on the opportunity is a new food company called v2food which is delivering sustainable and nutritious plant-based protein to Australian plates. v2food was brought together by Main Sequence Ventures, CSIRO’s innovation fund, and one of Australia’s food industry leaders, Jack Cowin. The v2food product is made from legumes, but looks and tastes like meat and contains added fibre and nutrients.
The challenge of plant-based protein
Yet opportunities also exist to address the demand from those consumers who are not quite ready to make the transition to a plant-based diet. With advancements in technology, it is possible to reformulate meat products to add beneficial plant-based components such as protein, fibre or omega-3 fatty acids. But there is still work to be done to match plant ingredients to meat to deliver hybrid products that replicate the taste and texture of meat.
Lastly, ‘alternative proteins’ refers broadly to plant-based and food technology alternatives to animal protein. This category includes proteins from legumes, algae, fungi, insects and those derived from cellular agriculture – this could be from microbes such as yeast, or cultivated meat grown from cells harvested from animal muscle.
For the more adventurous eaters, it may soon be easier to join the ranks of the two billion people globally who eat insects as part of their regular diet. The edible insect industry in Australia is still emerging, but the sustainability and nutritive values are two compelling arguments to make a meal (worm) of them.
How does Australia capture these opportunities?
As a major producer and exporter of protein, we can capitalise on this demand by capturing high value, high margin export market opportunities, in the process building our sovereign manufacturing capability and creating new jobs.
Australia’s food industry is well placed to develop novel, differentiated protein products that meet the requirements and changing dietary patterns of the modern health and environmentally conscious consumer.
In order to achieve this, Australia will need to build strategic partnerships between research and development organisations and industry, supported by public and private investment. We need to work together through science innovation and technology towards the common goals of health, sustainability and value creation.
There are huge opportunities to tackle waste and supply chain inefficiency and increase yield, but also to increase the biodiversity on which our current food systems rely and generate novel products using sustainable processes.
1. PWC, Rabobank and Temasek. (2019). “The Asia Food Challenge Report: Harvesting the Future”.
2. Food Frontier. (2019). “Hungry for plant-based: Australian Consumer Insights”.
3. Springmann M, Spajic L, Clark MA, et al. (2020). “The healthiness and sustainability of national and global food based dietary guidelines: modelling study”. British Medical Journal. 370, m2322.
4. AgriFutures. (2020). “The Changing Landscape of Protein Production”.
Professor Michelle Colgrave is a principal research scientist within CSIRO agriculture and food. Michelle leads the emerging future protein initiative, which aims to seize the opportunity created by the world’s growing demand for high quality protein, and fast track the growth of Australia’s new protein industries through science, innovation and technology.