From crickets to test tube meat: The coming revolution in alternative proteins

February 18, 2015

CHICAGO – Cricket flour energy bars? “Steaks” constructed from strips of lab-grown animal muscle fibers? Skeptics may pounce on the obvious “ick” factor, but consumer appetites have the capacity to evolve, says protein researchers—especially when the sustainability stakes are so high.

Feeding the rapidly expanding world population will require 470 million tons of annual meat production by 2050, an increase of more than 200 million tons from current annual levels, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Replacing and/or supplementing traditional animal protein with alternatives that require drastically lower levels of water, feed, energy and land is not only more sustainable but may result in healthier proteins too, according to the latest series of interviews from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) FutureFood 2050 publishing initiative. FutureFood 2050 explores how increasingly sophisticated science and technology will help feed the world’s projected 9 billion-plus people in 2050.

“People are finally starting to realize that from a climate perspective, it’s [producing animal protein] the equivalent of driving a Hummer,” says Ethan Brown, a long-time vegan who founded Beyond Meat to develop meats products that are “rebuilt” from plant proteins. “It’s a gratuitous use of emissions. To give you an example, the pea protein we use to create our beef? It emits one-tenth of the emissions that grass-fed beef emits. It’s incredible from an emissions perspective.”

Pioneering protein researchers talked to FutureFood 2050 this month about a wide array of possible technology-based innovations, including:
  • Ethan Brown: Founder of California-based Beyond Meat, which is processing plant proteins to chemically re-create the structure of meat
  • Daniel Imrie-Situnayake: CEO of Tiny Farms, a startup dedicated to developing technology for industrial-scale insect farming
  • Stephanie Mittermaier: German food technology researcher who sees big potential for protein from sweet blue lupine seeds as an alternative to soy protein
  • Mark Post: Dutch physiologist behind the world’s first in vitro burger made from meat grown in a lab, who wants to transform how meat is produced
  • Harman Singh Johar: Entrepreneurial young entomologist who believes insect protein could become a near-perfect famine relief product
FutureFood 2050 is a multi-year program highlighting the people and stories leading the efforts in finding solutions to a healthier, safer and better nourished planet to feed 9 billion-plus people by 2050. Through 2015, the program will release 75 interviews with the world’s most impactful leaders in food and science. The interviews with alternative protein pioneers are the 11th installment of FutureFood’s interview series, following sustainability, women in food science, food waste, food security and nutrition in Africa, aquaculture, futurists on food, innovative agriculture Parts 1 and 2, kitchens of the future and obesity.

This year, FutureFood 2050 will also debut a documentary film exploring how the science of food will contribute solutions to feeding the world.

For more information, please visit FutureFood2050.com to subscribe to monthly updates, learn more about the project and read the latest news on food science.

About IFT
Founded in 1939, the Institute of Food Technologists is committed to advancing the science of food. Our non-profit scientific society—more than 17,000 members from more than 95 countries—brings together food scientists, technologists and related professionals from academia, government and industry. For more information, please visit ift.org.

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