EU alternative protein market needs legal support to thrive

5 Dec 2023

European alternative protein startups and researchers need a “clear and coherent strategy” from policy makers to make sure the EU does not lag behind the rest of the world, according to EIT Food and its recent policy brief.

In recent years, scores of manufacturers have ploughed their efforts into exploring and diversifying proteins to meet consumer demands for plant-based and environmentally-aware product developments.

However, while investment has been growing, legislative endorsement has been lacking and, in 2023, has been enacted to prevent the sale, marketing, and development of meat-mimicking products, for example.

EU alternative protein market needs legal support to thrive
Pictured: Vegan plant-based chicken fillet | © iStock/Aamulya

Although the EU and member states have invested in alternative proteins, a recent law was passed in Italy banning companies from selling or marketing cultivated meat and outlawing the use of meat-referencing names such as ‘sausage’ and ‘burger’ for plant-based products.

According to Acacia Smith, vice president of the EIT Food Protein Diversification Think Tank and senior policy manager at the Good Food Institute (GFI) Europe, this law “sends mixed messages to European startups and researchers developing these foods”.

“A clear and coherent strategy to support alternative proteins as part of a diversified and resilient protein supply would give much-needed confidence to Europe’s rapidly growing sectors, helping ensure the continent is not left behind as the rest of the world races forward to deliver these sustainable foods,” Smith adds.

EIT Food’s Policy recommendations

EIT Food recently released a policy brief, Accelerating Protein Diversification for Europe. It sets out a series of policy recommendations to support new ways for manufacturers to develop protein and for consumers to eat it.

The policy brief calls for a systems-thinking approach, recognising diversifying protein as belonging to a complex and dynamic food system. Solutions to adopt this approach and implement far-reaching research will demand collaboration across the entire food value chain, the Think Tank indicates.

Acknowledging the importance of engaging with the entire food system is a core part of the brief, with EIT Food highlighting the importance of enabling policy environments and assessing regulatory frameworks to determine whether they enable or prevent new product developments (NPD) from taking place.

Research, development, and innovation (RDI) are also crucial, with calls for sufficient funding by governments. Public financing significantly pushes long-term RDI into societal topics such as environmental sustainability and can mitigate risks for private investors, EIT Food states.

A focus on education and training is also a key recommendation of EIT Food’s findings. As is enabling protein developers to go to market, with the policy’s recommendations urging actions that consider the broader food environments and issues that alternative proteins sit within, such as availability, affordability, and cultural preferences. It also highlights the importance of considering those measures that require a wide range of policy measures, such as information and competitive pricing.

Farming and agriculture cannot be overlooked in policy discussions around protein diversification either, with farmers providing core ingredients for alternative proteins. Therefore, farmers need to be involved in dialogue and protein transition planning. To enable farmers to respond to these needs effectively, they must be given substantial government support in research, development, and de-risking investments, the EIT Food’s policy brief says.

Progressing European food systems

Diversifying proteins in the food sector opens up opportunities for European food systems. It enables manufacturers to conceptualise and progress alternative protein development without the fear of bans or restrictions on their use.

“Protein diversification has huge potential to help the EU meet its commitment to bring down climate emissions while increasing the resilience of our food system, creating future-proof green jobs and supporting farmers who want to transition towards growing higher value crops for the alternative protein industry,” says Smith.

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