Alternative proteins big challenge

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Wanaka deer farmer Dr Amanda Bell says “disruptive technologies” such as “meat-free meat” is a challenge local farmers cannot ignore.

Dr Bell, and husband Jerry Bell own the 2000ha Criffel Station deer farm near Wanaka. She is chairwoman of Passion 2 Profit (P2P), a group that includes New Zealand’s five major venison companies, the New Zealand Deer Farmers’ Association and Deer Industry New Zealand.

Visiting the United States last year gave Dr Bell an understanding of how advanced the market for meat alternatives was.

Alternative proteins, including meats that were “cell cultured” in laboratories, and plant-based meat alternatives were big challenges, Dr Bell said.

“It is very real. Over there they have got huge funds. They’ve got big names in these businesses – Gates, Branson – and they are all investing billions.

“So they’ve got the cash, they’ve got the knowledge, genetics engines now are massive, they can crunch through the genetics and the science very easily.”

“We don’t know where it’s going to fall, but we have to be aware of it.”

The popularity of these alternative meat products was already rising, Dr Bell said.

“It’s already happening in the States, so that will have an impact on prices.

“They are real, they do taste great, the prices are going to drop.”

P2P was one way the deer industry was responding to future trends.

“We are working side by side with market and production, so it is market-led production,” Dr Bell said.

“We sit around the table together and we look at how can we develop the industry, how can we develop our markets, and then that comes directly back through to information for farmers.”

A “one health” philosophy was another way to ensure farming was successful in the future. One health was “the optimal health of water, environment, animals and people”.

It was a broad multi-disciplined approach, that focused on the integration of the four parts of one health, ensuring farming was in balance, Dr Bell said.

There was significant commentary in New Zealand on disruptive technologies, with positives and negatives in the new technologies which challenged more traditional farming methods, Dr Bell said.

“You are not having carbon emissions and you are using less water, which is positive, but then you are still using quite a few resources to make them.”

Five challenges for the farming community were climate change, water and environmental management, alternative proteins, the care of animals and consumer preferences, Dr Bell said.

Although markets were at present positive, which was seen in the payments farmers were receiving, in the bigger picture there were challenges that could disrupt the industry in the future.

“We need to be telling our story about natural, and healthy, and whole.”