The transition from animal to vegetable protein is in full swing

‘Animals eat protein-rich foods, which in some cases we can also eat ourselves, such as soy’

[SPECIAL: PROTEÏNE] NEW FEATHER – Geopolitical tensions, pandemics and crop failures are all things that could endanger the world’s food supply. And that awareness has grown over the past two years. Food producing companies now also encounter this problem: ingredients are no longer available or available at a high price. In 2018, EU member states were already encouraged to achieve a greater balance between vegetable and animal proteins. “If you look at the growing number of flexitarians, the Netherlands is ready for the protein transition.”

So says Renske Janssen, professor of protein conversion in food at HAS University of Applied Sciences. “The protein transition has changed from eating animal proteins to more vegetable proteins. It reduces the impact on the environment, and it is a more sustainable way because you can produce more vegetable proteins than animal proteins,” says Janssen. This is because animals are fed protein-rich foods that we can in some cases eat ourselves, such as soy. “But a cow also eats grass, and people cannot digest it. It is important that the entire chain follows through on the changeover, and it starts with the farmers and growers. What do they use and who is it produced for?”

food supply
The protein transition and the necessary steps that still need to be taken are set out in the Netherlands in 2020 in the National Protein Strategy (NES). The war in Ukraine prompted Henk Staghouwer, former Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, to write a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives on 3 June. In it, he writes that an investigation into the food security situation as a result of the Ukraine crisis has shown that ceasing soy imports will have significant effects. “Especially for the production and consumption of meat. The food supply is not in danger, but there is a need for immediate adaptations in the diet of people and animals. The NES has been developed to be prepared for this and to strengthen the Netherlands’ resilience in a timely and sustainable way,” writes the minister.

It is important that the entire chain follows through on the changeover, and it starts with the farmers and growers

The pillars of NES are self-sufficient, sustainable and healthy. The strategy presented in 2020 aims to increase the self-sufficiency level of novel and vegetable proteins over the next 5 to 10 years in a sustainable way that contributes to the health of people, animals and the natural environment. According to NES, the fact that the Dutch should eat more protein is not the reason: the Dutch get enough protein and often more than necessary. Of human protein consumption, 39 percent is of vegetable origin (legumes, grains and nuts) and 61 percent of animal origin (meat, fish and dairy products). To meet the goals of the NES, this must be achieved with a balance of 50 percent animal and 50 percent vegetable protein by 2030. “This ratio is consistent with the Nutrition Center’s Wheel of Five,” according to Staghouwer.

animal feed
Of the vegetable proteins that the Netherlands receives from countries outside the EU, 11 percent is used for the production of food or animal feed. The remaining 89 percent is re-exported, possibly after processing. Of this, 93 percent is intended for animal feed. The cattle fed these proteins in the Netherlands are largely destined for export meat and dairy products. In short, the vegetable proteins are in many cases only in the Netherlands for a short time. What will happen to animal feed if the Netherlands wants to release more vegetable proteins for human consumption? If it goes according to the NES’s plans, the protein-rich raw material palette for our livestock will be expanded in ten years with protein-rich crops from the EU, insects and microbial proteins. For example, chicken and pig feed can consist of circular raw materials such as animal meal and kitchen waste, and cattle mainly eat grass or local legumes (such as peas and kidney beans).

Nutritional values
And what do the Dutch eat if half of their protein intake has to consist of vegetable varieties? “In fact, you’ll find plant-based proteins all around you: think legumes, grains, nuts and leafy greens. These are all sources you can get it from,” explains Janssen.
Food producing companies also play a big role. For example, they can use pea protein isolate. “These are purified proteins from beans that you can use as an ingredient. It is already present in many products, such as meat and milk substitutes. The possibilities lie in the amount of added protein. It is sometimes difficult to get the same product with a comparable amount of vegetable proteins. It is good to remember that you get the same nutritional values, because then we will continue to eat enough protein – just like now. In addition, it is important to get all essential amino acids from the proteins. Not all plant proteins contain enough of all essential amino acids, but this can be solved by eating proteins from different plant and alternative protein sources, such as mushrooms.”

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