Interviews

Federal Association for Alternative Protein Sources: “There is a Need for Action When it Comes to Animal Products: a More Appropriate Price Must Be Charged for Meat”

How can alternative protein sources be given a greater role in the market? How can companies involved in plant-based, fermented, or cultivated products be supported? The Federal Association for Alternative Protein Sources (BALPro), which was founded five years ago, is an organisation that aims to do just that. It aims to promote dialogue between stakeholders from science, business, politics, and society.

The association, which was founded in March 2019, now has around 130 members. Many well-known names are involved: Lidl and Rewe are among them, as are Danone, Dr Oetker and Burger King, as well as Rügenwalder, Iglo and the Müller Group. But not only the food industry is represented. Machine manufacturers, raw material traders, biotech firms and marketing companies are also involved. Startups, interest groups, and animal feed producers have also joined the association.

Fabio Ziemßen is a co-founder and one of the chairmen of the organisation. In this interview, he talks to us about how exactly BALPro brings its members together, why he thinks the organisation is important, and why he is so enthusiastic about mycelium-based plant products.

Mr Ziemßen, BALPro has been around for five years – are you satisfied with the development of alternative proteins in this time?
I am very satisfied with the speed at which the sector has developed during this time. There has been strong further development in individual categories. Let’s just take a look at milk alternatives: they are available in liquid form, they are available in powder form, we have almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, and much more. Product quality has also become much better. And supermarket shelves, which used to be very limited, are getting bigger and bigger.

Supermarket shelves with alt milk courtesy ProVeg
Image courtesy ProVeg International

In what way does BALPro support companies working with alternative proteins?
Among other things, we facilitate networking, bring the players together, promote communication with each other, and do political advocacy work. Members come together at online get-togethers, working groups, breakfast meetings, trade fairs and events. Our big Smart Proteins Summit takes place once a year. It’s impressive how big this event has become.
How do you explain this popularity?

“Every trend creates a counter-trend”

An important aspect of our association structure is that we are not ideological, but future- and technology-driven. Our association also benefits from the fact that it is incredibly diverse. Big players are represented as well as startups. We unite everyone involved – from the field to the plate. They can exchange ideas and support each other. One important question is: what do we need to do here in Germany to be able to communicate on an equal footing with the major technology centres in the USA, Israel, Singapore, and the Netherlands?

In other countries, such as Italy, Austria, and France, there are also movements that are fighting against cultured meat in particular.
Every trend creates a counter-trend. There are now some dissenting voices – in this country from the conventional sector, among others. This makes it all the more important that this new economic sector of alternative proteins has a strong community, a strong voice. There is no other country where there is such a strong business community as here with BALPro.

balpro logo
© Balpro

Apart from the headwinds described above, what other challenges need to be overcome?
On the one hand, I’m worried about regulation. Cultivated products and new intermediate products produced by (precision) fermentation, in particular, have to go through the complex and lengthy authorisation procedure for novel foods in the European Union (EU). Another issue is the VAT adjustment for plant milk. We are calling for a reduced rate of seven percent – the same as is charged for animal milk.

Another area of work concerns taxonomy. This means that we should be able to label alternatives to milk in the same field of application as ‘milk’ with a descriptive addition according to their use. It is also important that products from the field of alternative proteins develop their own identity. They should no longer be defined merely as a ‘substitute for’, but should be labelled as a fully-fledged product category.

“…plant-based foods are moving to the centre and taking up more space”

And in general, there is also a need for action when it comes to animal products: a more appropriate price must be charged for meat, for example – especially in order to achieve better animal welfare and give farmers fair consideration. There should be a shift on the plate in terms of nutrition anyway: steak is moving from centre stage to the margins in line with the ‘Planetary Health Diet’ and becoming a small side dish, while plant-based foods are moving to the centre and taking up more space. Especially with the new generation of plant-based products, you can hardly taste any difference to meat anyway.

Mycorena’s mycelium-based protein Promyc
© Mycorena

What do you mean by new generation?
I like to divide the development of plant-based nutrition into three evolutionary stages. The first stage – or the first generation of products – was characterised by-products such as soy and seitan patties. In the second stage, companies launched the next generation of products on the market, which aimed to match the structure and flavour of conventional products. The best-known product of this generation was the ‘burger patty’. The third generation now includes cultivated and fermented products as well as particularly innovative plant-based products that use as few additives as possible and can be labelled as ‘clean’.

What excites you most about this?
In my opinion, you can hardly taste any difference between mycelium-based plant products and animal products. In my opinion, this is a revolutionary step. I’ve tried two or three products that are now available in supermarkets and they taste great. It’s not just the umami flavour that is so convincing. The ingredients are also very pure: there’s no more methylcellulose in there either, for example.

Further information: balpro.de

This article was provided by journalist and vegconomist guest author Susanne van Veenendaal. As part of her book project on cultured meat entitled ‘The new meat culture – Why cultured meat can be good for animals, humans, and the environment’, on which Susanne van Veenendaal is working together with Christoph Werner and Bastian Huber from cultured-meat.shop, she is talking to various German companies, researchers and initiatives in the industry.

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