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Alternative proteins’ impact on the livestock sector

By Mike McMorris, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation

As far as alternate proteins go, the future is here. When considering livestock products such as meat, milk and eggs, consumers have many plant-based options and the expectation of cellularly produced products in the near future.  

Plant-based options are far from new. There is a fascinating short CBC video from the 1970’s on YouTube all about pea protein used to make meat analogues. The reason it was a hot topic then was due to food security and affordability. Today, consumers are attracted to protein alternatives because they believe them to be better for their health, the planet, and animal welfare.

The past three to five years have seen a huge investment in plant-based alternatives.  Most traditional meat processing companies invested as well. Consumer interest sagged in the past 18 months and sales have diminished. The stock valuation of one of the leading plant-based companies is currently at about $9, a long way from sustained periods at around $125. 

The newer kid on the alternate protein block is cellular production. This process can be used to replicate most livestock products. The first cellularly produced “hamburger” made waves in 2013 with a price tag of over $300,000.  A recent report from the Canadian Food Innovation Network documents investment in cellular production to be about $2.8 billion. A lot can change with that kind of money. Today, you can buy cellularly produced “chicken” nuggets in Singapore, and the U.S. just recently gave approval for the sale of the same product.

How will these competitors affect the livestock industry? 

Fortunately, global demand for animal products is expected to rise due to population growth as well as changes in eating patterns as more people join the middle class. Plant-based products will most likely make a comeback of sorts, though current consumer preferences suggest that it will be hard for them to displace a significant portion of the animal product market. 

The impact of cellular production is harder to predict and depends on three key factors.

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