Alternative sources of protein for human consumption. An exploratory survey

Geertrui Cazaux, Dirk Van Gijseghem, Leen Bas

January 2010

For reasons of global food supply, globalisation, impact on third-world countries, environmental hygiene, health and animal welfare, it is said that the current way in which animal protein is produced is not sustainable in the long term. On the one hand, we could try to mitigate these negative consequences by, for instance, reducing the contribution of cattle breeding on greenhouse gas emissions and tackling environmental hygiene problems. Others are of a completely different opinion and look for solutions that deviate from the classical methods of animal protein production.

A new report provides an overview of these developments.

Novel Protein Foods (NPFs) are products based on vegetable protein and micro-organisms. A wide variety of vegetarian alternatives is already available on the market: seitan, tofu, soy meat, tempeh, quorn and meatless based on lupins. In addition, there are milk drinks that are not based on dairy (such as ‘soy milk’) and egg substitutes. The production of in vitro meat is proposed by some as a possible alternative. In the Netherlands a research project is running in which stem cells are extracted once from a pig embryo and grow into muscle cells in a bioreactor thanks to a growth medium. In vitro meat is proposed, in the first instance, as an alternative for the bottom of the meat market: minced meat, croquettes and minced-meat hot dogs. Insects, such as grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, termites, butterflies and moths, make up an integral part of the diet in large parts of the world. Therefore, some see insects as a possible alternative source of protein for us. The consumption of seaweeds and algae has its origin in Asia, but the demand is growing. A distinction is made between microalgae (usually sold as food supplements in tablet form) and seaweeds which, dried or not, are sold as sea vegetables.

The successful introduction or development of these alternative products depends on a lot of factors. Meat substitutes, non-dairy milk drinks and in vitro meat must comply with a number of criteria before they are accepted by the consumer: they must score well for taste and price, keep for a long time, be healthy and appeal to a broad range of potential customers. The interaction between producer and consumer is crucial.

The development and use of new sources of protein for human consumption can be regarded as a threat to Flemish agriculture. The changing consumption patterns and the introduction of alternative sources of protein which are mainly developed and produced abroad could put pressure on the domestic market for Flemish (meat) products. A successful commercialisation of in vitro meat could lead to a drastic reduction in the global demand for traditional meat. The breeding or growing of alternative sources of protein (algae, insects, raw materials for NPFs and, in future, maybe in vitro meat) can also offer Flemish farmers opportunities to tap into new markets.

Research is quite advanced in the Netherlands. Various research teams are active in this area. In Flanders no research initiatives are known that focus on this subject matter in depth.

Original version:



Cazaux G., Van Gijseghem D. & Bas L. (2010)
Alternatieve eiwitbronnen voor menselijke consumptie. Een verkenning
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