Studies & Numbers

Europe’s 60% Reliance on Animal Proteins Challenged in New EU Alt Protein Research

The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) has released a new study evaluating the potential of algae, insects, microbial fermentation, and cultivated meat to improve food security and reduce the environmental impacts of food production within the EU. 

However, to make the case for the growing interest in these alternative proteins, the report explains Europe’s current protein balance.

According to the authors, plant-based protein intake in the wider world accounts for 57% of total protein consumption. However, in Europe, animal protein still makes up the majority, somewhere between 55 and 60% — exceeding plant-based protein consumption since the 1970s and the recommended daily intake by about a third.

Moreover, with this impressive demand for meat, the region faces a deficit in local feed production, importing 61% of processed animal feed, including soy, emphasizing the EU’s reliance on imports for animal agriculture. 

As conventional proteins dominate this current protein balance (or imbalance), there are strong reasons to question whether this distribution can and should be maintained, argue the authors. 

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Alt proteins by 2035

Geopolitical and environmental pressures regarding animal agriculture are making regional governments reconsider diversifying protein production and expanding alternative proteins in the EU and globally, according to the report.

Europe’s reliance on animal proteins has significant environmental implications: over three-quarters of agricultural land and two-thirds of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions globally are associated with animal-based foods. In addition, the impacts of climate change further highlight the need to reconsider the current protein balance and explore alternative sources.

To give context to this imbalance, the report points out that in 2020, total alternative proteins including plant-based alternatives, reached 13 million metric tons, accounting for approximately 2% of the animal protein market. 

The report also suggests that alternative proteins will play a more significant role in the global protein market, accounting for 11% by 2035. Plant-based alternatives are expected to dominate this growth, but other sources, including algae and cultivated meat, will be available. Microbial fermentation proteins are estimated to reach 22 million metric tons globally by 2035 (or 2.5% of the global protein market for meat and meat alternatives).

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The future of food production

In addition, by 2050, the effects of climate change on food production (producing enough protein may be hindered by unpredictable weather patterns) will impact the availability and balance of protein sources worldwide, including the EU.

The paper suggests that given climate change, the environmental impact of animal agriculture, and potential shifts in protein consumption patterns, the future of food production may hinge on algae, microbial, and cultivated meat as protein sources.

Still, the study points out that the future contribution of these new protein sources will depend on technological advancements, regulatory frameworks, and market dynamics.

The paper concludes: “The protein balance globally and in the EU to 2050 will be greatly influenced by population growth and climate impacts on food production. Protein needs will increase, while protein production may suffer from greater fluctuations in weather conditions. Significant behavioral shifts before then could lead to a major redistribution of food and feed protein sources.

The complete report can be found here.

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