The amazing obstacles to the upscaling of the alternative technologies relate to public policies that still massively fund the incumbent animal agriculture system, when we know it’s really part of the problem in terms of climate change, biodiversity loss and some health issues.
ANAY MRIDUL: In the EU and the US, livestock farming receives about 1,000 times more funding than plant-based and cultivated meat, with the “gigantic” power of the animal agriculture industry blocking the development of sustainable proteins, finds a new study…
The Stanford University study, published in the One Earth journal, revealed that livestock farmers get 1,200 times more public funding in the EU than meat alternative companies, and 800 times more in the US. Public money spent on plant-based meat was at $42M between 2014-20 – just 0.1% of the $35B spent on meat and dairy. During this time, the former accounted for only 1.5% of all sales.
According to alt protein think tank the Good Food Institute (GFI), Europe led the world in terms of public funding for cultivated meat, with countries announcing financing in research and development for cultured meat, and the EU’s own core innovation and research funding programme highlighting cultivated meat and seafood as one of its three core pillars, setting aside around €7M for this sector.
There were similar developments in the US. The US Department of Agriculture awarded a $10M grant in 2021 to Tufts University to build the National Institute for Cellular Agriculture. And the Biden administration introduced a biotech programme that includes finances for “foods made with cultured animal cells”, while California allocated $5M for alt-protein research in its state budget.
The EU also supported two major research initiatives into the development of plant-based products in 2022, with a combined investment of €23.2M, according to GFI. And the US government performed and funded research on plant-based proteins through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, with projects in three universities. California, meanwhile, set aside $100M to expand vegan and sustainable lunches in public schools.
Despite this rise in public funding, the numbers pale in comparison to what the animal agriculture industry received. The Stanford study shows that 97% of all research and innovation spending went to animal farmers, aimed at improving production. In the EU itself, cattle farmers received at least 50% of their income through direct subsidies.
“We found that the amazing obstacles to the upscaling of the alternative technologies relate to public policies that still massively fund the incumbent system, when we know it’s really part of the problem in terms of climate change, biodiversity loss and some health issues,” says Professor Eric Lambin, the study’s co-author…
“It’s not a level playing field at all at the moment,” says Lambin. “The [alt-protein] sector needs to be given its chance to expand and gain efficiency. After that, consumers will judge whether they like it or not, and scientists will judge whether it is really better for the environment and for health. But if it cannot even develop to a scale where we can make this assessment, it will be a lost opportunity to transition to a sustainable food system.“
The way the scales are currently balanced, it would almost seem the alt-protein industry doesn’t stand a chance. But there is hope, according to Lambin, who points to the EU’s proposal to accelerate the shift to sustainable proteins (to be adopted later this year), as well as the US’s landmark regulatory approval for the sales of cultivated meat.
And looking directly at subsidies, the EU Commission last year approved a European Citizens’ Initiative calling for the meat and dairy industry subsidies to instead be passed on to the plant-based and cultivated protein sectors. SOURCE…