Pandemic whets world appetite for plant-based meats

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Hey, how about a moong bean egg for breakfast ?

If you are worried that eating eggs or meat might expose you to infections, help is at hand. In the wake of covid, a number of entrepreneurs are speeding up work to derive protein-rich food entirely from plants, which they hope would also usher in a kinder world for animals.

For those who would rather not forsake their love for a chicken tikka or a shrimp sandwich, a plethora of alternate offerings are on the way in the form of cultivated meat.

That was the message which came across from the first-ever Smart Protein summit organised by the Good Food Institute in India.

Pandemic or not, in a country where the vast majority of Hindus pride themselves on being vegetarian, consuming plant-based meat products is likely to be a surefire hit.

Many believe that the Covid virus originated from an unnatural transmission from bats to humans due to meat sold at China’s wet markets

“There is a collision happening between humans and animals that is causing this (the pandemic),” said Josh Tetrick, CEO and Co-founder of Eat Just Inc, a US-based company that has just sold its 50 millionth moong bean egg.

“There has been an awakening to what has happened.”

He said more companies are opening up to their products, which has also come up with a chicken nugget made out of cultivated meat — derived from animal cells cultured in a laboratory.

Tetrick said that in about a decade not a single animal may have to be killed for its meat. 

Resources are running out

Another big reason why food experts are gravitating for protein food derived from plant sources or cultured in a laboratory is that the world may run out of land, water and other resources needed to support livestock that can feed a burgeoning population.

Environmentalists believe a large livestock population is one of the biggest contributors to global warming — more than cars or planes — because of inefficient food consumption.

Varun Deshpande, managing director of Good Food Institute, highlighted that a chicken consumes 9 calories of food for poultry meat equal to 1 calorie. 

“We talk about India wasting about 40% of its crops, but here we are wasting 800%,” he said. “Rethinking protein is one of the highest things which we can do.”

Deshpande also pointed out that 70%-80% of antibiotics in the US are used on animals. Consuming their meat means that human beings are developing antibiotic resistance, leaving them susceptible to diseases for which there are no medications.

Sidharth Mangharam, country general manager of Livekindly, said that “it is very likely that India, if not the largest, will be one of the largest markets for plant-based protein foods.”

He said their company has a presence in the US, UK, Germany and China and were also looking at India.

Seafood on the menu

Sandhya Sriram, CEO and co-founder of Shiok Meats, said they embarked on a venture to make seafood cultured in laboratories two years ago with no clear business plan or how to advance since most of the work in the laboratories at that time was either in red or white meat.

However, in six months they could come out with a prototype of a shrimp. Luckily for them, the period also coincided with the Singapore government setting a target for increasing in-house food production by 20% in 10 years to aim for self-sufficiency.

“We are hopefully looking at lobster and crab as well. We are aiming for a 2022 launch. We are aiming to get into the product with a blend of plant and seabased food starting out with Singapore,” she said, adding that Singapore might be the first ever country to launch a cell-based food market.

Shriram said that she planned to have multiple manufacturing facilities across Asia over the next decade, out of which one of the countries will be India.

Rajesh Krishnamurthy, chief business officer at Richcore, said that they had been working with enzymes to help food companies make products like sugar without the use of sulphur as well as other food products without the use of chemicals. 

Later they used their expertise to help  pharmaceutical companies, who had been facing criticism over use of animal-based products, to make medicines in order to reduce their dependency for such proteins.

They realised that their technology expertise could be leveraged to help food companies shorten their journey for producing cultivated meat products that can be introduced in markets.

They are now in the process of setting up a manufacturing facility in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.

A number of products that are either plant-based or derived from proteins without slaughtering animals should be arriving in markets in coming months, industry executives said.

Biman Mukherji is a columnist and consulting editor at Indoasiancommodities.com. He has worked for international news organisations such as Reuters, The Wall Street Journal as well as for newspapers like The Times of India. He can be reached at biman.mukherji@indoasiancommodities.in

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