There’s No Alternative to Alternative Protein

Insight

The future of food needs to have a solution to the problem of protein – specifically, animal protein.

As part of our “yes, and” approach to food systems, we need an all-hands-on-deck approach to feeding 10 billion people. Yes, we need to invest in livestock, and strive to reduce methane emissions and bring about more sustainable production practices. And, if we’re to stay within the Paris climate goals as the world’s population grows, some of the sharply increasing demand for meat needs to come from alternative proteins with a fraction of the emissions and a vastly reduced land footprint.

The alternative protein sector emerged over the past decade just as we needed it. This period was marked by a slew of new innovations – like breakthroughs in lab-grown meat produced using stem cells, and plant-based meat substitutes that mimic the look and taste of the real thing. 

While the sector has grown significantly over the past five years, more is needed if we are to meet our climate goals. We need to vastly accelerate the quest to produce alternative protein products which are healthy, tasty and affordable for consumers the world over. Whilst majority private investment to date has got us a good way forward, we believe that it needs a firm footing of cutting-edge public research and development which underpins improvement in products, and we call on governments likewise to act and support this fledgling industry

The idea is to create Bezos Centers for Sustainable Protein, housed in universities at the cutting edge of science and technology related to sustainable protein, which systematically go about creating breakthrough research which will drive alternative protein products to be cheaper, tastier and better for you. They should be responding to industry needs, solving emerging problems, and investing in game changing new ideas which have transformational potential to bring about step changes for the sector. And the best bit is that should all be open-access - the knowledge generated can be used by anyone to ensure broad impact.

To help make this happen, we teamed up with the Good Food Institute – a nonprofit think tank – to undertake a global search for research institutions that could rise to the challenge. As a result of this search, and building off our announcement of US$60m for sustainable protein, we’re thrilled to create the first Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein hosted at North Carolina State University.

With $30 million in funding over five years, it will undertake collaborative, pre-competitive research into three areas: plant-based protein products; precision fermentation for producing proteins and nutrients that can be used in food formulations; and cultivated or “lab-grown” meat produced from animal cells.

The Research Triangle of North Carolina, in which NC State University is based, is a powerhouse in biotechnology, biomanufacturing and agricultural innovation and is an ideal home for our first center. Leveraging that capacity, some of the activities they’ll undertake include:

  • Improving the palette of materials used to extract proteins or to use as raw materials for fermentation and cell cultivation;
  • Improve manufacturing processes for sustainable protein products to make them more efficient and less costly, using advanced biotechnology and manufacturing methods;
  • Training the center’s faculty and students on innovation and intellectual property as well as commercialization models, tools and strategies to facilitate new technology transfer to industry.

The ultimate aim – shared with the additional centers to be announced soon – is to find ways to bring down the price of sustainable proteins, improve their taste and nutritional value, and ensure their relevance to as wide a range of consumers as possible.

The Bezos Earth Fund’s Future of Food Program is working to transform food and agricultural systems to feed a growing population without degrading the planet. With this kind of firm R+D foundation in place, I believe sustainable protein will be set to properly play their part in the future of food.

It might even come to define that future.

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