IN THE NEWS: On NOV 23, 2018
In a special report on the development of plant proteins in the European Union, the European Commission recognizes that plant-based alternatives are gaining popularity in Europe. In addition to providing details on the promising market share for meat and dairy alternatives, the report lists a set of recommendations and funding opportunities available to producers to develop the sector of plant-based proteins. The report, which was published on the first day of the Conference on the Development of Plan Proteins in the EU, confirms that the EU plan to develop the production of proteins ("EU Protein Plan") will not exclusively focus on animal feed, but will also include measures encouraging the production of plant proteins for human consumption.
Europeans Consume More Plant-Based Proteins
In a section dedicated to the development of plant proteins for human consumption, the report first identifies the "particularly promising" market for meat and dairy alternative, which respectively represent an annual growth rates of 14% and 11%. The report also notes that plant-based analogs are not longer a niche market not only on account of the significant increase in the market share, but also because 90% of meat alternatives are consumed by consumers who also regularly eat meat and dairy. This shift in consumer behavior towards more plant-based food is particularly visible in western and northern Europe and can be explained by "changing eating habits with a growing number of flexitarians" as well as the growing popularity of international cuisines rich in pulses, such as Middle-Eastern, South-American, or African food.
In fact, plant-based alternatives are becoming so mainstream that "retailers often promote [them] on the same shelves as traditional meat and dairy products." In recognizing the generalization of such products in stores and correlating it to consumers' changing eating habits, the report further demonstrates a major trend towards reduction in animal products consumption, driven by the public's awareness of the environmental costs of intensive livestock production and the suffering it causes to animals.
In light of the recent actions undertaken by the industry against the labeling of plant-based products, such a shift in consumption patterns also speaks to the absence of confusion among consumers, who, far from being confused by allegedly misleading labels, intend to reduce their meat and dairy intake. The report further stresses the success of the plant-based alternatives sector in offering convenient food products with short preparation time. The convenience and versatility of food products is key to reach to all segments of the populations, especially communities with limited time and financial resources.
EU Protein Plan to Tackle the Production of Plant Proteins for Human Consumption
To ensure producers meet consumer demand for plant-based proteins, the Commission puts forward a list of recommendations with existing opportunities for funding to support and develop the protein sector. For instance, Member States could implement support mechanisms for the cultivation of plant proteins for human consumption, in compliance with the objectives set up in the proposed regulation, including "improving the response of EU agriculture to societal demands on food […]."
The Commission further points out to funding available to producers to support research and innovation to develop the sector under Horizon Europe, the EU's main program for scientific research. Finally, the Commission stresses that pulses for human consumption can benefit from the EU certification schemes such as Protected Geographical identifications and Protected Designations of Origins as opportunities, and commits to further communicate children the benefits of plant proteins through the school schemes.
Regarding the production of plant proteins for animal feed, even though the report falls short of identifying industrial farm animal production as the main driver of soy imports, which cultivation causes biodiversity loss and habitat destruction in the Americas, it still recognised the growing societal demand for higher animal welfare standards. The report further alleges that organic standards of feed production respond to societal demand for more transparency and sustainability in the way animals products are produced. Although organic standards on animal welfare remain far too low to match consumers' expectations, the report rightly identified that growth in organic production "favors grass-fed systems and on-farm feed production [..]." Such systems generally entail a better treatment of farm animals compared to systems where extreme confinement is the norm.
A Step in the Right Direction for Animals
The inclusion of actions for more plant-based proteins for human consumption in the EU Protein Plan signals a step in the right direction for the animals, the environment, and the consumers. Eurogroup for Animals is committed to ensure the Commission and the Member States will implement the recommendations put forward in the report so as to work to reduce the consumption of animal products in the EU.