Experts call on UK Government to invest £1B in alternative proteins for a green economic boost

Paul Roberts

November 6, 2023

A coalition of renowned economists, Nobel laureates, and climate leaders have come together to advocate for a 1.2 billion dollar investment into the alternative proteins industry in the UK by 2030. In an open letter, the experts highlight the immense potential of alternative proteins to help the UK achieve its climate targets while reducing food prices, improving economic growth, and reducing the UK’s reliance on food imports.

Investing in the alternative proteins market presents a unique, ‘win-win’ opportunity, the experts state in their letter, and could establish the UK as an early adopter and pioneer in the sector. The letter’s signatories include former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, co-founder of the Eden Project Sir Tim Smit, Nobel Laureate and economist Sir Christopher Pissarides, Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Oxford Sir Roger Penrose, leading economist and author of  Doughnut Economics Kate Raworth, and Sir Partha Dasgupta, lead on The Economics of Biodiversity report, along with two other Nobel laureates.

More than just ‘veggie burgers

The signatories emphasize that alternative proteins encompass more than vegetarian options or meat substitutes. They identify three promising areas of alternative protein innovation:

  • Precision Fermentation: An advanced method akin to brewing, which uses microflora to produce proteins identical to those found in traditional meat and dairy. The experts highlight that this, in particular, is a highly promising avenue that has received relatively little
  • Cultivated Meat: A technique that scales up animal cells in bioreactors to produce real animal tissues.
  • Plant-Based Foods: This includes a wide range of products, from whole-food beans and pulses to plant milk and plant-based burgers, sausages, and steaks.

While global meat consumption is widely considered to be environmentally unsustainable, the experts advocate for government intervention that expands consumer choices rather than, for instance, banning foods such as beef. The global alternative protein industry is projected to generate up to 1.1 trillion dollars in gross value added and support 9.8 million jobs worldwide by 2050. This, the experts argue, will significantly benefit the UK economy, address the cost of living crisis, and contribute to achieving the nation’s net-zero goals.

The 1.2 billion dollar investment proposed by the signatories represents less than five percent of the 27 billion dollars allocated to the UK Infrastructure Bank‘s climate crisis plan. To put this in perspective, 1.2  billion dollars is equivalent to constructing only three miles of the new HS2 high-speed railway. The experts point out that investments in the food sector offer one of the greatest potentials for decarbonization, creating opportunities for farmers to produce plant-based ingredients and feedstocks and increasing Ecosystem Services Payments for carbon sequestered on rewilded land.

“Investing in alternative protein sources like precision fermentation, plant-based and cultivated meat is a no-brainer. It creates highly skilled jobs, new opportunities for farmers and is the best investment, dollar for dollar, for reducing carbon emissions,” said Karolina Lisslö Gylfe, the Secretary General of NGO Replanet, which coordinated the open letter.

Asia’s pivotal role

Interest in alternative proteins is not limited to the UK. A recent report by Asia Research Engagement (ARE), a Singapore-based organization focused on investment in sustainable development, underscores the importance of a global shift towards alternative proteins. The report states that if the Asia-Pacific region is to combat global warming effectively, it must reduce the production of animal proteins and transition to plant-based and other alternative sources by 2030. “Production of animal protein will by 2030 need to start declining in favor of plant-based and other alternative forms of protein. And by 2060, alternative proteins will in most countries need to account for more than half of protein production,” the report states.

Spotlighting China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, India, and Pakistan, the report calculated their projected emissions from protein production and found that none of the countries are on track to keep their emissions from food production in check. According to the report, Asia supplies more than half of the world’s animal proteins, including land animals and seafood. It warns that without a shift to alternative proteins, it will be impossible for Asian countries to meet the 1.5°C warming goal set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

As the world grapples with the need to double protein production by 2050 while preventing the climate crisis from becoming a global catastrophe, the alternative proteins market is emerging as a potentially transformative new sector.