Protein self-sufficiency: Finland could achieve targets in 10 years if meat consumption is cut, says VTT
28 May 2019 --- Finland is in an excellent position to enhance its protein self-sufficiency while building a sustainable, carbon-neutral food chain. This is according to a new report by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and VYR (the Finnish Cereal Committee) which presents an action plan for using grains, grass, fisheries, insects and cellular agriculture more efficiently as sources of protein in the production of both food and feed.
According to Emilia Nordlund, Research Team Leader at Finnish-based research group VTT, self-sufficiency could be possible in just 10 years if meat consumption is cut, but there is a long way to go. “At the moment, self-sufficiency is less than 20 percent, so we have lot to do, and it will take time, but I would say that in 10 years we should be close to 100 percent,” she tells FoodIngredientsFirst, following the publication of the report.
However, she points out, especially if a solid reduction in meat consumption can be achieved, the target can be reached faster. “For example, VTT scientists have calculated that we would need only 80 percent of the cultivated field area in Finland, if we would cut the red meat consumption to zero and poultry consumption stays the same. So, reducing the need for feed production is very critical when targeting protein self-sufficiency,” she adds.
Raising the share of domestic production at EU and national level in Finland is important for food security, due to the unstable market conditions attributable to climate change, for instance.
“The EU has prioritized the replacement of forage soybean with protein sources produced in Europe,” says the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners’ (MTK) Secretary for Cereal and VYR’s Chairman of the Board of Directors Max Schulman. “Many operators have in fact already started to replace forage soybean with domestic sources of protein. A many-fold increase is expected in the use of forage-based on domestic protein sources in the near future. However, this requires targeted breeding efforts for high-quality cultivars, as well as allocating significantly larger areas for the cultivation of protein crops and increasing their yield,” he adds.
The consumption of plant-based protein products in food in Finland has increased since protein self-sufficiency was previously studied in 2015. The growth is expected to continue, with consumers searching for alternatives to proteins from animal sources. However, successful growth requires cooperation and development throughout the supply chain, including improvement in the cultivars, contract farming and ingredient industry.
“In addition to substantial research efforts, building a network and business models for operators is critical to enable the efficient utilization of grass, insects and cellular agriculture in protein production,” Nordlund points out.
The fisheries industry could also play a key role in enhancing Finland’s protein self-sufficiency, but not without implementing significant measures related to maintaining the viability of fishing as a livelihood in both inland and coastal fishing communities.
“I would say that plant-based solutions such as grains of course hold great potential, as well as fisheries in Finlandand in Finland also fisheries. In Finland, sustainable wild fish yields are similar to poultry production volumes, so it’s a very strong potential food protein source. For grass, insects and cellular agriculture, there is work to be done, but we have ongoing development projects for using grass for feed and even food,” she adds.
To put the measures into practice, VYR has set up a working group on protein, chaired by Nordlund. The working group on protein mainly focuses on cereals, legumes, oilseeds and grass. Its aim is to raise Finland’s status as a model country for protein self-sufficiency and sustainable food production and as an exemplary operator in the EU. Operators from all sections of the supply chain are invited to the working group.
The as of yet undeveloped platforms of cellular agriculture and insect protein will both be considered, but there is a long way to go before going mainstream.
Nordlund explains that one of VTT’s vision statements is that in 2035, cellular agriculture products are an established dietary nutrient source in global scale. “Solar Foods is a nice case for cellular agriculture development in Finland for food, but also other solutions, e.g., pekilo single cell protein is actively developed for feed,” she notes. “For the animal protein production in cells (e.g., egg and milk proteins) the legislation is hindering the market intake, but I believe the big global need to battle climate change and biodiversity loss will also facilitate the regulators to reconsider their decisions. Of course, safety needs to be proven by proper processes for all the novel foods, we cannot compromise with the safety issues,” she notes, when speaking about this promising field.
While the insect protein space is also very active, she notes that we have yet to see the first big wave in this area. “Insect start-ups have gathered €500 million in funding in the past five years (mainly in Europe) to scale up, to build insect rearing units, so when those processes mature, we should see activity in the market. Pet food, animal feed are the first targets, but the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has received novel food applications for food use for seven species,” Nordlund explains.
The approval of these categories is expected to be in the end of this year and products arrive for available for consumption. “Taken together, insect meals and ingredients have increasing potential in Finland and EU,” she notes.
For Nordlund, ingredients suppliers are very important in this type of protein strategy. “Especially in Finland we are lacking ingredient industry and now when developing new ingredients the need for new players in the new value chains is even more important. On the other hand, I believe that this can also open totally new business opportunities and positions for new actors to enter the rather traditional and stable industry field,” she adds.
Nordlund is hopeful that this type of move will inspire similar development in other countries too.
“By this action now in Finland, we hope to facilitate the discussion, and especially implementation of the measures all around Europe and globally,” she explains. “We all should brave to go out of our comfort zone to build the sustainable food system for future. And it does not need to mean any negative issues, I genuinely believe that we can boost the food industry business through renewal,” she concludes.
By Robin Wyers
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