Governments Must Invest in Plant Protein Before It’s Too Late

Governments, in an ideal world, would take care of the people. It would ensure not only that everyone has access to the necessities — by that, I mean healthcare, shelter, clean water, etc — but it would also act to ensure a better future. And in the case of mitigating the escalating climate crisis, one should question why more governments aren’t investing in plant-based protein.

In the US, the federal government subsidizes animal agriculture with an unbelievable $38 billion a year. The EU pours an estimated £24 billion, nearly a fifth of the EU budget, into meat and dairy annually. Between 2016 and 2017, nearly £70 million in subsidies were given to beef cattle farms, mega-dairies, egg producers, poultry farms, and pig farms, some of which have been found guilty of pollution and animal health violations. Though not a big spender of subsidies, in 2011, Canada supported primarily dairy, poultry and egg producers with $6.9 billion USD.

Propping up animal agriculture is hardly desirable, considering that science has weighed in multiple times on the unsustainable nature of mass-producing animals for slaughter and consumption. Especially not when evidence also shows that a shift toward plant-based agriculture would be better for the planet and people (and the animals, obviously).

But, Canada is doing one thing right: not too long ago, the Canadian government began investing in plant-based protein. Pea protein. The same type of protein that brands and startups, like Beyond Meat and Germany’s LikeMeat. Tyson Foods is dipping its toes into the plant protein space with its Raised & Rooted range of blended meats, which combine pea protein with beef and chicken. PURIS, Beyond Meat’s pea protein supplier, recently received a $25 million investment. It’s in the process of doubling production to feed growing demand from brands.

Canada wants to become a global leader in plant-based protein. And it’s making strategic moves. French multinational company Roquette is in the final stages of building its $400 million pea protein processing facility — the largest in the world — in Manitoba. The ingredients brand will co-fund $19.2 million with Protein Industries Canada (PIC), a federally-funded nonprofit, to expand the nation’s faba bean processing and to develop new uses for plant protein.

Over the years, PIC has received multiple investments from the government in order to help private businesses and research facilities to work together to feed the growing global demand for pea protein. Last month, PIC kicked off an $11.3 million project to develop meat alternatives and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a nearly $100 million investment in the plant-based food industry.

Finland is getting a jump on things, too. The University of Helsinki and VTT, a state-owned research and innovation nonprofit received £2.1 million from Business Finland for the EXPRO project, which will develop healthier meat alternatives from domestic crops like oats and faba beans. It’s working with some of the biggest food industry companies in Finland to cover the entire production chain, from raw materials to product development and market research.

The Singaporean Food Agency, a board of the nation’s government, announced its support of a 50,000 sq ft facility that will produce 1,200 to 1,800 tonnes of plant-based protein annually.

Canada and Finland are both leveraging their strengths — in this case, domestic crops — to set themselves and the planet up for success. After all, according to global consultancy AT Kearny, 60 percent of meat will be animal-free or cultured in a lab by 2040. Both countries see the writing on the wall. Not to mention, this will also create more jobs as they (hopefully) begin to transition away from unsustainable animal agriculture when their investments (I’m calling it now) inevitably pay off.

Policies could do better to address food as well. Despite victories, such as recognizing hemp as a commodity crop, the 2018 Farm Bill upheld its support of heavily-polluting industrial agriculture. The proposed Green New Deal wants to incentivize low-carbon farming — and we can venture to guess that that will include plant-based crops, considering their significantly lower carbon footprint compared to meat and dairy — but, it is up against lobbyists who want to keep subsidies in animal agriculture. The Farm to Fork strategy at the heart of the European Green Deal is much more direct on how it wants to build a sustainable future: “A healthy and plant-based diet reduces the risk of life-threatening diseases and the environmental impact of our food system.”

While this is welcome news, it’s not yet enough — not if we’re going to change the food system. Private companies and brands can’t go at this alone. The government needs to put in the work, too. The health of the planet depends on it.