Dear Commission President von der Leyen
CC: Executive Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, Commissioners Virginijus Sinkevičius, Janusz Wojciechowski, Paolo Gentiloni
We call on you to make a €25 billion ‘moonshot’ investment between now and 2030 to fuel a rapid protein transition and make Europe a world leader in the crucial technology of sustainable proteins.
We are standing on the cusp of a technological revolution, a food revolution unprecedented since the dawn of farming thousands of years ago. This revolution, led by the rapidly evolving sector of animal-free protein production, leaves Europe with a choice: to invest now and reap the benefits, or to dither and delay whilst the rest of the world takes the lead.
Agriculture today is the largest single cause of biodiversity loss and emits up to a third of all greenhouse gases - more than all our cars, planes and ships put together. Most of the damage is caused by livestock farming, which covers 26% of the Earth’s land surface, more than all the world’s forests combined. Meanwhile war, climate shocks and supply chain vulnerabilities are driving food shortages that imperil our food security.
The crises caused by our diets seem insurmountable. But are they really? Just as clean energy sources are quickly coming to replace fossil fuels, sustainable protein production shows the potential to displace the most harmful forms of animal agriculture at a speed and scale previously unimaginable.
Sustainable protein production includes three crucial areas of innovation: precision fermentation (an advanced form of brewing in which microflora are used to produce the individual proteins and fats found in animal products), cultivated meat (a method in which animal cells are scaled up in a bioreactor to produce real animal tissues) and plant-based foods (which includes everything from whole-food beans and pulses to plant milks and plant-based burgers, sausages and steaks).
Of these, precision fermentation shows particular promise but has received the least attention. In this field, food innovators have now perfected the ancient process of brewing to do something remarkable: produce proteins that are biologically identical to those we find in traditional meat and dairy. By partnering with the microscopic world, precision fermentation companies here in Europe now have the technical ability to make animal-free cheese that melts, smells and tastes just like the cheese we eat today. Meanwhile beyond these shores precision fermentation ice cream, egg whites, ‘bleeding’ burgers and more are already reaching the market. Most importantly, precision fermentation is already proven at a global scale, producing 99% of global insulin, over 80% of global rennet and the vast majority of the world’s citric acid.
If done equitably and as part of a wider systemic transformation of our food system (including correcting market signals, supporting other sustainability efforts and addressing demand side interventions) the environmental and socioeconomic benefits of the protein transition are enormous. Moving to sustainable proteins could reduce the climate impacts of meat by up to 92% and investments in the sector offer the greatest decarbonisation potential of any industry per dollar of capital invested - greater even than direct investments in clean power. Ecologically, by freeing up vast areas of land from livestock farming the transition will allow for an unprecedented scale of nature restoration that can help bring back vital habitats and draw down further carbon.
Economically, a fully deployed sustainable protein sector could bring $1.1trillion in gross value added and create up to 9.8million green jobs worldwide by 2050. These green jobs will also importantly include opportunities for farmers, not only in the production of plant-based ingredients and feed stocks but also in Ecosystem Services Payments for carbon sequestered on rewilded land.
But of all these benefits, the greatest is sustainable proteins' unrivalled resilience to the shocks and instability of our current food system’s fragile supply chains. It is surely for this reason alone that the rest of the world is rapidly moving ahead. Pioneering nations such as Singapore, Canada, the USA, Israel, Japan and China are now leading the world in supporting the R&D and commercialisation of sustainable proteins while urgently improving their regulatory, tax and labelling landscapes to help them enter the market. In the USA precision fermentation ice cream and milk are now available to consumers, while in Singapore cultivated meat is already on the market.
But here in Europe, we seem stuck in the past. With Italy moving to ban cultivated meat and major member states starving the sector of public investment we are once again falling behind. Europeans watched with dismay as this happened with internet and information services, AI and a host of other high-tech industries, but we cannot sit by and watch it happen with our food. The protein revolution will happen with or without Europe. The only question now is whether we will proudly help steer this transformation or be passive bystanders. With others already leading the race, this is now a pressing matter of fundamental food security for the continent.
This is why we the undersigned are calling on you to commit to an immediate investment of €25 billion by 2030 to turbocharge the development and commercialisation of a European sustainable protein industry. This figure, though ambitious, represents just 5% of the €500 billion committed under the Green Deal Investment Plan to be spent on Green Industries by the same date and pales in comparison to the €420 billion of public funds projected to be spent through the Common Agriculture Policy by the decade's end. Furthermore, this investment reflects the fact that sustainable proteins must be taken just as seriously as other vital green tech such as wind, solar and hydrogen: sectors that are also benefiting from the €210 billion REPowerEU plan. With such a public-led investment we can also fully research and mitigate any unintended consequences of the sustainable protein transition and ensure that the benefits are widely shared in an open-source manner and not captured entirely by private sector corporations.
We believe that this measure, alongside much needed regulatory, tax and labelling refinements, will make the food revolution unstoppable, and make nutritious and affordable diets accessible to all, while unlocking profound ecological, climate and economic benefits. It’s time to rediscover our European spirit of innovation and enterprise. It’s time for Europe to lead the food revolution.
Supporting our open letter
We are proud to have garnered support from leading organizations, academics and thought leaders who share our vision of a sustainable protein future. Their dedication and expertise validate the importance of this cause. Join us and add your voice to the growing movement.
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