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Alt proteins can transform our food system–tracking research grants can keep us on target

Research can propel alternative protein innovation and accelerate the shift to a more sustainable food system. Mapping the funding landscape can reveal…

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This article was originally published by https://gfi.org/blog/tracking-alt-protein-research-grants/

A global database of funded alternative protein research grants

GFI’s Research Grants Tracker compiles publicly available information about non-dilutive alternative protein research funding—that is, funding that doesn’t require giving up equity in a company and does not require repayment. We collect information about the amount of each grant, geographic location, funder type, alternative protein pillar, recipient, and more to understand and map the landscape. 

The Research Grants Tracker does not include consumer or market research but focuses on non-dilutive grants with technical aims such as improvements in sensory characteristics or grants to build pilot facilities that enable scaleup of technology. The research must also be directly applicable to alternative meat, egg, and dairy end products. 

The tracker is more than just a static database of information. It’s also a tool for filtering data to identify trends and gaps and to answer questions such as those above. Give it a try: how much money has your government granted to open-access* alternative protein research and development?

Data-driven insights into the alternative protein research funding landscape

The world we live in is built on the research of the past. Our future is being created by the research of today. Analyzing the way we, as a society, are spending our research dollars can tell us if we are building the future we want and need.

Are we building a future where alternative proteins are no longer alternative?

$112m

has been awarded to alternative protein research and development. $98.3M went to plant-based, $12M to cultivated meat, and $1M went to fermentation-derived.

$50m

of the total $112M in awarded funding has gone towards research and development that produces open-access results.

of all alternative protein research is funded by governments.

39%

of government grant dollars for alternative protein research and development have been awarded to research that produces publicly accessible results. ($28.2M)

Four key insights from the data

1. The amount of R&D funding for alternative protein research is woefully inadequate. Since 2005, non-dilutive, publicly disclosed grants (not loans or investments) for alternative protein research totals nearly $112 million. By comparison, in 2018 alone public expenditure on R&D for renewable energy was $5.5 billion. That’s about 50 times the entirety of grants awarded to alternative proteins. In 2020, renewable energy supplied 26.2% of global energy production whereas plant-based meat only accounted for 1.4% of U.S. retail meat sales, and even less globally. If we want alternative proteins to achieve meaningful market share to combat the environmental and public health concerns posed by industrial animal agriculture, commensurate funding for alternative protein research and development is needed.

2. Pre-competitive, open-access research funding is far too limited, especially for cultivated meat and fermentation-derived proteins. Non-dilutive grants for open-access research totals just $50.6 million, 45% of the total $111.8 million. For cultivated proteins, the total is only $10.1 million. No non-dilutive grants have been allocated for fermentation-derived protein. There are still technological challenges to the mass commercialization of nutritious, affordable, and delicious alternative proteins. If every company has to solve these challenges individually, a lot more money, time, and effort will be spent inefficiently producing the same results. More open-access research will lower the barrier to entry for startups and accelerate the expansion of the entire industry.

3. Geographic regions are positioning themselves as leaders in alternative protein research through government-funded projects.

Source: The Good Food Institute research. Includes publicly available information where disbursements are disclosed.

Canada is leading in alternative protein research and development, establishing itself as a processor of plant-protein ingredients. Second is the European Union, which has separate research grant programs from individual European countries and is funding consortia working on plant protein products across multiple member states. In third place is the United States, which serves as the largest grant funder of cultivated meat and dairy research. Finland comes in fourth and is the only country to support research on fermentation-derived proteins. The Netherlands, Germany, and Japan round out the list of regional funders who have awarded more than $1 million in alternative protein research grants. There is still room for countries to stake their claim as scientific research and development hubs for various aspects of the alternative protein industry.

4. Governments are beginning to take notice of the opportunities alternative proteins present. Alternative proteins offer governments opportunities to address climate change while simultaneously increasing food security, building a sustainable food system, and capitalizing on the economic opportunities of new markets. Non-dilutive government grant funding for open-access alternative protein research reached its highest level in 2020. In addition, we’ve seen positive traction in the United States Congress and at the state level, in Europe’s Farm to Fork Strategy, and in other countries such as Singapore through their Future Foods: Alternative Proteins program

Research Grants Tracker

Explore and filter data on funded alternative protein research grants from around the world to discover insights.

What the alternative protein industry needs

Based on the data, alternative protein research is not yet being funded at a level that will enable mainstream adoption and availability. As the Chinese proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” 

For alternative proteins to achieve their true potential for addressing the challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, zoonotic disease, antibiotic resistance, and food insecurity, we must invest in research and development now. 

It is imperative that we don’t repeat the missteps of renewable energy research, which began in earnest during the oil crises of the 1970s but was quickly left to wither due to dwindling support when the crises abated. If we build on the momentum in research funding from the past three years, we can put ourselves on track to create a future where alternative proteins are no longer alternative and enable the transition to a sustainable, healthy, and just food system by 2050.

Governments, nonprofits, and public-private initiatives must commit to increased funding for alternative protein research.

As a means of establishing global leadership on this critical technology, governments should massively increase funding streams for open-access research, establish alternative protein research programs, and, importantly, incentivize the translation of this research into commercial solutions. 

We must also reimagine our current funding mechanisms.

The challenges that face society today are global: the building of a sustainable food system, mitigating climate change and preventing zoonotic disease. To address these challenges, we need to think beyond borders—academic and political—and cooperate to build the sustainable, secure, and just protein supply of the future.

*GFI defines open-access research as research whose results will be published and broadly accessible to many stakeholders across the industry. This is in contrast to proprietary research that is done to benefit just one company or where the results are kept confidential.

Author

James Dale, Ph.D.

James Dale, Ph.D. RESEARCH FUNDING COORDINATOR

James Dale identifies and expands scientific research funding opportunities for alt proteins. He also coordinates opportunities with GFI’s allies in academia and industry. Areas of expertise: nanomaterials, interdepartmental research, research funding, grants.

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