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New Zealand braces for impact of alt-proteins on food export markets

New Zealand braces for impact of alt-proteins on food export markets

New Zealand may need to prepare for changes in its food export markets as the rise of alt-proteins could reshape the future of farming, according to a recent study.

The Protein Future Scenarios report – funded by the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge – explored the impact of new proteins on traditional milk and meat products.

It revealed how alternative proteins are likely to have a significant effect on the global market for proteins as food technology improves and diets evolve in response to concerns about climate change and animal welfare.

“Countries dependent on importing food from countries such as Aotearoa, like China and the UK, will increasingly be able to produce more of their alternatives to animal protein as technology advances,” explained Jon Manhire, research lead and director of the AgriBusiness Group.

The research team modeled the economic and environmental implications of three plausible future scenarios against a baseline scenario.

One of the potential scenarios highlighted in the report is the growth of precision fermentation, which uses fermentation and yeasts to replicate dairy products. This could increase the global supply of dairy proteins and reduce prices for traditional New Zealand dairy products.

Dr Christopher Rosin of Lincoln University, part of the research team, said that greater global demand for plant protein would have economic and environmental benefits for New Zealand but will be “unevenly distributed”.

“The modeling exercise indicates that precision fermentation has negative economic impacts, mostly for our dairy sector, but does have positive environmental impacts,” he continued.

Rosin said that the widespread availability of cheap alternative proteins reduces profits for beef, sheep, and dairy farmers.

“Cell-cultured protein is principally likely to have negative impacts on the New Zealand meat sector,” he added.

“We’re likely to see land-use change into arable, horticulture, and carbon farming. This will have positive economic benefits for those sectors but would reduce the size of our pastoral sector.”

Another key finding in the report is New Zealand’s potential to become a significant producer of alt-proteins. The country, having an ample supply of hydro and wind power, puts it in a good position to manufacture alt-proteins in the future.

Producing large quantities of protein through precision fermentation and cell-culture processes will require a massive supply of inputs such as serum and yeasts, and this emerging ‘feed industry’ could also provide opportunities for Aotearoa.

“There is a high level of interest and investment in alternative proteins and many recent technological advancements, especially in cell-cultured protein, which can replicate meat from any species in a laboratory,” added Manhire.

“Although investment in novel protein companies slowed down significantly last year, our research suggests this was due to a settling of optimism and enthusiasm into a more realistic view of the pace of development in technology and scale of production.”

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