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BIONÆR-Bionæringsprogram

The biosynthetic protein transition: assessing impacts, outcomes and opportunities for Norways post-animal bioeconomy

Alternative title: Overgangen til kunstig protein: evaluering av virkninger og muligheter for en bioøkonomi etter dyrene

Awarded: NOK 10.0 mill.

2021 has been a year of growth for the synthetic animal protein industry. 2020 saw increasing numbers of companies (now 80+) up from 18 in 2018, dramatically increasing levels of investment, the emergence of support companies, and new regulatory approvals. Fermentation-based dairy proteins became commercially available in the U.S. when Perfect Day began selling its cultured whey protein to three ice-cream manufacturers who distribute it in over 5000 outlets. In the coming years the company expects volumes to rise and costs to decline, bringing its price in line with conventional dairy proteins. The company conducted the first ISO conformant life-cycle analysis in February 2021. This showed Perfect Day whey protein to be significantly lower in GHG emissions, energy use, and water use than seven comparative examples of conventionally produced milk protein. At the same time, evidence is stacking up against lab-made meat being soon available. An independent Techno-Economic Analysis (TEA) conducted by chemical engineer David Humbird (December, 2020) concluded the technology was unlikely to be successful in the short term as there were too many technical problems. A later TEA for cultured meat advocate group the Good Food Institute (2021), while more positive, similarly found numerous areas in which costs need to be cut before the product becomes commercially viable. One company (Eat Just) claimed to be the first to market a cultured meat product when, having received regulatory approval in 2020, it released a chicken nugget product for sale on December 19th 2020 in Singapore. However, this appears to be a publicity stunt as the product was sold at a significant loss. Protien2.0 has continued to explore the issue of how the technology might affect Norway. Norwegian consumer attitudes to cultured protein (1.207 consumers) were measured in early 2021 by Christian Klöckner from NTNU. As part of the "Cultured Meat ? Nordic Take" network, Prof. Klöckner teamed up with other organisations in Denmark and Finland who funded their own identical surveys, resulting in 3.862 responses from across Scandinavia. Results, submitted in a publication "Which attributes would make cultured proteins (un)attractive and for whom? Results from a Nordic survey", show a neutral to slightly positive view of cultured protein. Younger people and men were particularly positive towards cultured meat while vegans and vegetarians were also generally positive. Increased knowledge appeared to lead to greater acceptance. Overall we conclude that many Norwegians are likely to try cultured meat when it is available. A media analysis "Exploring the future visions and narrative silences of cellular agriculture in news and industry media" was published in 2021. This paper focuses on the "gaps" in the positive media narrative. In particular, it examines negative potential outcomes of the technology, raising and discussing questions such as: What will happen to rural communities, who will care for the countryside, what happens to the animals, will we create new monocultures, and, will we create a new set of environmental problems? One identified problem is that, cellular agriculture startups do not know how to address the environmental problems in industrial agriculture without damaging sustainable livestock production. It concludes that while cultured proteins may enhance the overall sustainability of the food system, their arrival on the market could damage more sustainable forms of agriculture. The modelling WPs are continuing to develop the models necessary to explore the wider implications. Technical papers from the systems modelling have already been published, namely "Systems Engineering Framework for Bioeconomic Transitions in a Sustainable Development Goal Context" (2020) and "Using Agent-Based Models for Prediction in Complex and Wicked Systems" (2021). These establish the basis for the final models due to be constructed in 2022. Protien2.0 has already had a wider impact than originally intended. In addition to extending the consumer survey across three Nordic countries, it has spawned a spinoff project, "SYNAGRI - Developing synergies between the bioeconomy and regional food systems for a sustainable future" beginning in 2021. This Research Council funded project looks at how new bio-technologies such as cultured proteins can be integrated with regional food systems in Norway to preserve the countryside and enhance food security (addressing issues raised in the above "narrative silences" publication). In addition, Protein2.0 team member Sissel Rønning led a 2021 bid for funding to develop a cultured proteins in Norway "ARRIVAL of cellular agriculture: Enabling biotechnology for future food production". While not funded, it received a high grade and will be submitted again in 2022.

Within the last 5 years the synthetic production of meat and other animal products has gone from science fiction to reality. Everything from burger meat to egg whites can now be produced without the involvement of a living animal, with many products likely to become commercially available in the next decade. This technology has the potential to enhance food security, reduce the need for industrial agriculture, lower climate gas emissions, promote environmental sustainability, and create new knowledge-based industries for food production in Norway. However, it is also likely to prove extremely disruptive to existing bio-based industries. For example, start-ups are already working on on the production of synthetic salmon and other fish, while the synthetic production of milk and meat is likely to represent a direct challenge to Norway’s farming sector. Although synthetic production systems are currently too small to challenge conventional protein industries, research is underway to both improve manufacturing processes and increase the scale of production. The introduction of synthetic animal protein to supermarket shelves is simply a matter of time. The aim of PROTEIN2.0 is to assist Norway prepare for this eventuality by assessing the likely impacts, outcomes and opportunities provided by the technology. The project focuses on evaluating the protein technologies, assessing consumer response to the concept of consuming synthetic animal protein, and understanding the likely impact of the technology on global food systems. We then use these evaluations to inform economic and social simulation models which will, with user guidance, (a) explore the effect of synthetic proteins on the wider economy and biosectors, and (b) create scenarios of change for evaluation. Scenario evaluation will lead to recommendations for response. The main outcome of the project will be to assist Norway to prepare for the arrival of synthetic animal proteins in the coming decades.

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