Executive summary

Alternative proteins and Australian food systems transformation report

Executive summary

While there is no Australia-specific estimate, current global food systems—encompassing the production, processing, packaging, distribution, consumption and disposal of food and beverages[i] —contribute between one-quarter and one-third of all global greenhouse gas emissions[ii] [iii] and trillions of dollars annually in hidden health, social and environment costs.[iv] Food systems are also at the forefront of climate change, facing more frequent and severe natural disasters and weather events, localised changes to growing regions, and heightened biosecurity risks, all at the expense of productivity and farmers’ livelihoods.[v] [vi] [vii]

The significant action being undertaken by Australian governments, as well as those in existing agriculture and food industries to meet 2050 net zero targets are to be applauded, as reducing emissions and environmental impact is critical to ensuring the long-term viability of Australia’s agricultural production and food security. However, in the combined context of climate change, growing global food security and nutrition-related public health concerns, and ongoing disruptions to domestic and international supply chains, the future of Australia’s food systems is not guaranteed by sectoral decarbonisation alone.

The world’s population is expected to reach just below 10 billion by the middle of the century, [viii] greatly increasing the accompanying demand for nutritious food—especially protein—so we must find ways to increase production within planetary boundaries.[ix] As this report explores, in Australia, as abroad, this demand cannot be met sustainably by increasing conventional animal protein production alone. Instead, it must be met with a combination of animal, plant, and novel protein production systems.

For Australia, as a world-leading food and protein producer and exporter, transforming our food system presents both domestic challenges and global opportunities.

No one protein, existing or emerging, or agrifood tech innovation, is a silver bullet solution to our complex challenges. Vulnerability points across the entire system—from production through to disposal—must be addressed. Most importantly, the approach across sectors and governments must be coordinated through a considered, holistic systems transformation policy that recognises food as a climate change imperative.

Forward-thinking international governments, particularly those at greater risk of food insecurity, are already addressing how they can sustainability source, produce and consume food. Governments that have recognised this challenge as an economic opportunity are also engaging heavily with new and innovative food industries, including alternative proteins. Alternative proteins can and should play a critical role in Australia’s own transformation.

Alternative, or complementary, proteins, being either plant-based, precision or biomass-fermented, or cell-cultivated, are already bringing economic and employment benefits to Australia. Targeted investment into the sector’s growth will also support Australia to address many of the challenges its food system faces, as well as stimulate private investment across the supply chain.

Alongside market diversification of sustainable protein sources to support equitable access to nutritious diets and bolster food security, alternative proteins can offer value-addition and waste reduction opportunities to existing agrifood industries. The potential to centre new and circular, advanced agrifood industries in Australia’s major growing regions could also provide regional development and skilled job creation whilst increasing sovereign manufacturing capability.

Australia is also strongly positioned to service the growing demand for alternative proteins internationally, especially in Asia, helping to secure our long-term economic outlook through diversified and value-added exports. This is true not just for final products, but also for ingredients, technological IP, equipment, and skills.

As this report details, co-investment from Australian governments into the required infrastructure, research and development, and workforce is critically needed to unlock this opportunity. As is a comprehensive food systems transformation policy that sends clear direction to industry and private investors.

Policy recommendations

True transformation of Australia’s food system to become more sustainable and resilient, as well as more productive to support equitable access to nutritious foods globally, will take vast action across the entire system. Given Food Frontiers’ remit and expertise, our recommendations are specific to enabling the growth of the domestic alternative proteins in support of this transformation:

1. Supplement current decarbonisation efforts with a comprehensive food systems transformation plan, led at the federal level, in close coordination with the states and territories.

2. Establish whole-of-government taskforces to coordinate the various efforts required by different departments, working in close partnership with jurisdictional counterparts and the domestic food ecosystem to ensure Australia’s strengths and greatest opportunities are leveraged.

3. Actively build and promote complementary, sustainable agrifood industries, including alternative proteins, by:

– Co-investing with industry in enabling, scale-up infrastructure, including into onshore plant protein ingredient processing capacity and contract / co-access manufacturing facilities.

– Providing incentives for farmers to grow more pulses for the plant protein supply chain and for food and beverage manufacturers to undertake the required product development to adopt local ingredients;

–  Co-investing in dedicated innovation hubs and R&D programs aimed at scaling the sector and addressing its critical research needs, and building the domestic skilled workforce through subsidised studies, industry placements and targeted, skilled migration programs; and,

–  Pursuing health strategies that encourage the adoption of plant-centric and sustainable diets and utilising government procurement to incorporate plant protein in institutional settings, such as in aged care, to address diet-related health concerns.

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References

[i] Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO). Reshaping Australian Food Systems. [Internet] 2023. Available from: https://www.csiro.au/en/work-with-us/services/consultancy-strategic-advice-services/csiro-futures/agriculture-and-food/reshaping-australian-food-systems.

[ii] Crippa, M., Solazzo, E., Guizzardi, D. et al. Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nature Food [Internet] 8 Mar 2021. 2,198–209. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-021-00225-91.

[iii] Poore, J., & Nemecek, T.  Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science. [internet] 1 Jun 2018. 360(6392), 987-992.Available from: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aaq0216.

[iv] Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). The State of Food and Agriculture 2023: Hidden Costs of Agrifood Systems at the Global Level. [Internet] 2023. Available from: https://www.fao.org/3/cc7724en/online/state-of-food-and-agriculture-2023/hidden-costs-global-level.html.

[v] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).AR6 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers. [Internet] 2023. Available from: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-cycle/.

[vi] Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARES). Australian agriculture on a roll, but where to next? [Internet] 2022. Available from: https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/products/insights/australian-agriculture-on-a-roll-but-where-to-next#:~:text=This%20two%2Dpart%20ABARES%20Insights,matter%20in%20the%20near%2Dfuture.

[vii] Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARES). Climate change impacts and adaptation on Australian farms. [Internet] 2021. Available from: https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/products/insights/climate-change-impacts. daptation#recent-changes-in-seasonal-conditions-have-affected-the-profitability-of-australian-farms.

[viii] Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARES). Food demand to 2050 – Opportunities for Australian agriculture, 2012 [Internet]. Available from: https://www.agriculture.gov.au/sites/default/files/sitecollectiondocuments/abares/publications/Outlook2012FoodDemand2050.pdf.

[ix] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. World Livestock 2011 – Livestock in food security. [Internet] Rome: FAO. 2011 Dec Available from: http://www.fao.org/3/i2373e/i2373e00.html.

 

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