Shaping The Future: Alternative Proteins The Key To Self-Sufficiency?

Thursday, July 28th, 2022

The alternative protein industry is flourishing. However, there is a need to deal with issues that may arise as we embrace meatless options. By Dr. Vimala Sreenivasan, general manager of Singapore site and associate vice president of Instrument Sales SAP & Tech Touch, SAJK, Agilent Technologies.

Dr. Vimala Sreenivasan, general manager of Singapore site and associate vice president of Instrument Sales SAP & Tech Touch, SAJK, Agilent Technologies

Alternative proteins including soy or wheat proteins are not derived from animals. Although, these have long been a traditional staple in our diets, there are other forms of alternative proteins which are not conventionally part of meals. These include cultured or cell-based meat grown under controlled conditions, as well as certain species of algae and fungi (mycoprotein).* According to Barclays, the alternative meat market could be worth ten times its size today at US$140 billion in 2029.* In Asia Pacific alone, the market for plant-based meat is forecasted to grow by 25% to US$1.7 billion over the next five years.* 


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact global food supply, there is an urgent requirement to diversify food sources. This is especially apparent in markets like Singapore, which have traditionally been highly dependent on regional and international food imports. Alternative proteins can help plug gaps in the food supply and there are environmental benefits in using them as part of the mix in assuring food security. However, there is still research to be refined and regulations that need to be put in place to ensure the growth of the alternative proteins sector.

Alternative Proteins The Key To Self-Sufficiency

Rising concerns on food security and climate change have translated into the progressive acceptance and adoption of alternative proteins. However, novel products may face potential challenges including food safety issues. In some markets, the demand of alternative proteins has soared tremendously while supply fell short, leading to food fraud. For example, some commodities such as wheat or soy, which are widely recognised as food allergens, may be used to substitute more expensive plant-based proteins.*  The other types of common food fraud include concealment, counterfeit, and mislabelling.


To ensure the development and consumption safety of alternative proteins, the Singapore Food Authority (SFA) has adopted a transparent approach by implementing policies and regulations: all companies must conduct and submit a safety assessment of the protein.* This includes covering potential food safety risks, toxicity, allergenicity, as well as safety of its production methods, and dietary exposure arising from consumption.* Additionally, companies must also provide detailed information on the materials used in their manufacturing processes and how these processes are controlled to prevent food safety risks. 


The Singapore government has also mandated that the labelling and packaging of alternative protein products include qualifying terms such as “mock”, “cultured” or “plant-based” to indicate their true nature, allowing consumers to make informed decisions when deciding to purchase and consume these products. 


Understanding the associated risks along the production chain

Alternative Proteins The Key To Self-Sufficiency: Beyond Meat

Having a single source of truth for alternative proteins is critical in assessing and ensuring the safety of such products before they are permitted for food ingredients. Within the chain, food sources have become more complex and varied, resulting in a need for a highly accurate and efficient food safety assessment that is able to accommodate an ever-growing range of production methods, materials used in production, and dietary exposure to alternative proteins.


Lab-cultivated products including meat, dairy and seafood pose concerns of another spectrum. Additional testing may be warranted to investigate potential unknown by-products, a change in cell genotype or phenotype due to extensive culturing of cells, allergenicity, or a change in nutritional value when production moves from its pilot phase to industrial scale production.


The technology behind a meatless meat-like culinary creation

Thanks to the well-founded collaborations with universities, government agencies and industry players that have yielded great results, the same is happening with food innovations, particularly with the flavour and fragrance market, food repurposing and valorisation (the conversion of food waste or by-products into higher value products that contribute back to the food supply chain).


One such collaboration saw the revolutionary breakthrough of the world’s first meatless meat-like culinary creation by Impossible Foods: the Impossible Burger. Engineered from scratch to mimic the taste and texture of real meat, the burger is made from soy plants containing a heme-rich protein called leghemoglobin.* Performed with Agilent instrumentation during the gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis, a sample of beef is heated to release the aromas that bind to a piece of fibre, isolating and identifying the individual compounds responsible for those scents.* These scents were then used to recreate the sensory beef burger experience in the plant-based Impossible Burger.


A future-ready Singapore

Recognized as a food paradise, Singapore’s thriving food tech industry often goes unseen. The government has pledged S$100 billion to help the nation battle the climate crisis, including investing heavily in the development of food technology to overcome global resource constraints and sustain the country’s food demands.* Besides, Singapore’s academia private partnership certainly gives a strong foundation to a company when it comes to research & development (R&D). 


Future Ready Food Safety Hub (FRESH) a collaboration between the SFA, Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) was launched to accelerate food safety research and help establish local food safety capabilities in support of Singapore’s rising food ecosystem. Agilent has an existing Research Collaboration Agreement with FRESH, enabling the company to assist FRESH with R&D support. 


The journey ahead

With significant strides taken to develop its robust regulatory science capabilities, the alternative proteins industry is continuously witnessing unrivalled success. However, there is a need for recognition that there will be rising issues which may decelerate progression and set the industry back to square one. It is imperative that companies and governments come together to tackle these challenges and continue to invest strategically into varying aspects to ensure sustainable food goals.


Admittedly, there needs to be an alignment between investment in research, safeguarding the industry, and the health of its consumers. Governments are passing laws and internationally coordinated guidelines that would work towards the transparency of alternative proteins from lab-to-shelf, as well as ensuring that the highest safety standards in the global alternative protein industry are well-maintained. By proactively taking steps to mitigate risk and ensure standardisation across the industry, we will all be on our way to a self-sustained future.



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