Alternative Protein Industry

European Regulators aren’t Keeping Up with the Boom in the Alternative Protein Industry

Follow Us:

Places such as Israel and the US are in the lead and a big part of why is the approval process

Few companies, creators, or inventors enjoy going through the regulatory process to get products approved for sale, but most understand the importance and necessity of approvals to safeguard health and safety – as well as to set standards for fair play. But when regulatory boards don’t or can’t do their job because they are caught up in disputes or weighed down with onerous procedures that slow work to a crawl, they become a curse rather than a blessing and can affect entire industries across entire continents. This is what we are seeing currently in the European Union in the alternative protein sector. The market for alternative protein – an umbrella category that includes meat substitutes, all types of non-dairy milk and eggs as well as vegan cheese – has boomed since 2020, with sales in the segment growing twice as fast as general food sales. The UK is a leader in the so-called ‘vegan movement,’ but following close behind are other European mega markets such as Germany and France – as well as smaller, but strong markets such as Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal. Every day, more Europeans are choosing to adopt an animal-free lifestyle. But neither the UK nor the European Union is keeping up with the number of applications for approval of alternative proteins. This is unfortunate as European consumers are sophisticated and – importantly from any company’s perspective – affluent.

These consumers have the money to spend on higher-priced vegan meat substitutes, but unless things change quickly, they will be buying products from the US, Israel, and increasingly Asia, rather than from their fellow European nations. We should define what we mean when we talk about vegan meat in 2022. Meat substitutes have been around for quite some time, and some of them are well-known such as the famous ‘bleeding’ vegan burger and its competitors. We are, however, entering a new era for such products as startups, a significant number based in Israel, begin offering a ‘new species’ of alternative meat, with a variety in flavor as well as products (did you know you could have a plant based kebab for your next barbecue?). Previous iterations were – at least from some consumer standpoints – decent or acceptable, or even good… but were unlikely to confuse anyone as to what they were made of. They had perhaps a degree of meat flavor, but in general, when in the past one was eating a veggie burger, the burger tasted like it was made from beans or chickpeas or various combinations of other vegetables. The not-chicken chicken previously available was clearly made from some version of fungi, while faux turkey tasted like tofu because, well, that’s what it was made of.

Meat substitutes created by startups after the year 2020, however, have begun to blur the line between real and fake meat. Some of these new creations are plant-based substitutes printed by a 3D printer that uses AI-driven algorithms to bring to life the closest approximation of animal protein that humankind has yet created. We are basing these assessments on the testimony of barbecue experts and celebrity chefs who have publicly told newspapers such as The Guardian that these products are “game-changers.” A report from Amgen Regulatory Consulting earlier this year notes that there are two UK alternative protein novel food dossiers under evaluation that reportedly were created after the UK’s ‘Brexit’ – but both are said to still be awaiting approval. One of the reasons cited by pro-Brexit politicians for the United Kingdom needing to leave the European Union was to escape regulatory excesses, but so far, the UK does not seem to be doing much better than the EU – at least in the alternative protein market.

The EU, unfortunately, is significantly behind the United States where there’s an average 10-month wait time from the submission of a letter of approval to a response. In the European Union, that time frame is reportedly 28 months. Singapore, the first nation to approve cell-cultured products, reportedly has new guidelines saying approval time there should be between 9 months to a year. The EU is often looked at as a leader in standards due to diligent scrutiny of products of all kinds for their effects on human health, the environment, workers’ rights, etc. Many around the world trust something approved by the EU, as it has both a reputation for safety and conservatism. The former is a positive attribute that should be nourished while the latter must be kept under control if the European Union is to keep up with the vegan alternative protein sector’s innovation.

At present, the regulatory framework in the European Union is more of a wall than a safety fence and if products continue to require 28 months to approve, there’s little doubt some firms will choose to relocate headquarters to Israel, Singapore, or the United States. Both the Singapore food agency (SFA) and the US FDA. for example, are reportedly quite proactive in encouraging applicants to engage with them even before official submissions so that these agencies can inform companies about requirements that may have been overlooked. This means by the time the official submission comes in, there aren’t any surprises and the process can be expedited. Any business person should be able to see the potential for profit in the plant-based protein sector; as well as the potential for encouraging an industry that is kinder to the environment and more sustainable than traditional meat and dairy sector. Business leaders across industries in Europe need to put pressure on the EU/UK to find ways to speed up approval and regulatory processes or their massive market of affluent pro-vegan Europeans will be getting their animal-free sustenance from non-European sources.

Also Read: Food and Beverage: Attitude towards Edible Packaging



Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

Scroll to Top

Hire Us To Spread Your Content

Fill this form and we will call you.