The ERIAFF Working Group on “Plant proteins”
The production and sourcing of plant proteins for the agri-food sector has repeatedly stimulated political debate at the EU level. The European Commission is exploring how to harness the potential of protein plant production, responding to the needs of European farmers, the food industry and consumers. In 2018, the European Commission published a report on the development of plant proteins in the European Union and since then, further European policies and funding opportunities have addressed the development of plant proteins.
On top of that, the European Green Deal (presented in 2019) is a set of policy initiatives by the European Commission with the overarching aim of making Europe climate neutral in 2050. To succeed with this ambition the Commission calls for actions by all sectors of the European economy. For the agri-food sector The Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F, presented in 2020), closely linked to The Biodiversity Strategy (presented in 2020), is at the heart of the green deal. The F2F aims to enhance the sustainability of European food systems – to make them more fair, healthy and environmentally friendly. It addresses, among other fields, the development of plant proteins where the Commission aims to facilitate further market introduction of sustainable and innovative food and feed additives. Additionally, European policy adjustments will reduce the dependency on critical feed materials by fostering EU-grown plant proteins as well as alternative feed materials such as insects, marine feed stocks (e.g. algae) and by-products from the bioeconomy.
Owing to these recent European strategies and an increasing demand from European consumers as well as Member States1, the development of plant protein is climbing on the European agenda (whether it is for food or feed). Increasing the availability and source of alternative proteins such as plant, microbial, marine and insect-based proteins and meat substitutes will likely be a thematic priority in programs with funding streams to research and innovation for the agri-food sector.
Thus, there are many reasons for regions, and actors of the quadruple-helix to prepare for upcoming European calls for projects on the topic. Following a first informal meeting between the actors of the regions Pays de la Loire, South Sweden, Turku-Southwest Finland, Extremadura and Mid Norway, the idea is now to go one step further and to build a strong interregional collaboration within the framework of the ERIAFF network, through a dedicated Working Group on “Plant proteins”.
Scope of the WG PLANT PROTEINS
The focus we want to take relates only to the alternative sourcing of proteins from plants (incl. algae and by-products of the bioeconomy), for both food and feed usages.
Challenges to address
Among the challenges identified by the regions on plant proteins production and development, the proposed working group aims at addressing the following:
To increase the supply and demand of plant-based proteins (incl. working on product development and new business models).
To increase the cooperation in plant protein production and in research concerning plant proteins as food and food ingredients.
To increase the awareness of consumers about responsible food choices but also to motivate consumers to shift to sustainable diets and thus trigger behavioral change.
To improve the self-use of European plant proteins for food and feed (and to reduce the dependency on imported proteins, such as soy).
To identify new sources of plant proteins and ways to extract proteins (e.g. from legumes and pseudo cereals).
To work on cultivation of high nutritional and/or functional value crops high in protein content (e.g. quinoa).
To enhance the diversity, sustainability, and self-sufficiency of plant proteins value chains.
Key aspects here cover issues such as circular economy, bioeconomy, climate neutrality and sustainability. The involvement of the whole value chain, “from the farm to the fork”, is also an essential requirement.
Links with other ERIAFF working groups (WG)
The WG on plant proteins would complement the activities of the following ERIAFF working groups:
WG PLANTS: the focus of this group relates to horticulture (excluding cropping aspects) in a global perspective, encompassing issues such as the energy transition, climate adaptation or competitiveness aspects, with the aim of rendering the sector’s needs and challenges more visible at the European level. It has thus a too large vision for the topic of plant proteins to be fully addressed. An issue that can be solved with this Plant Proteins working group.
WG BIOREGIONS: the production of plant-based proteins relates to bioeconomy as it is based on the (ideally sustainable and circular) use of biomass. Furthermore, to produce proteins products and services, biorefinery processes can be needed. The Bioeconomy working group can thus find interest in following the activities of this plant proteins working group.
To a lesser extent, WG PLANT PROTEINS can also bring added value to the activities of the WG PERSONALIZED NUTRITION and WG CONSUMER INVOLVEMENT.
The activities of the proposed working group would be built around two sets of activities:
1. Exchange of knowledge and best practices: updates on the ongoing projects and initiatives in the regions, presentations of leading regional actors, networking sessions (physically or virtually). Such sessions would target mainly regional representatives based in Brussels.
2. Project development: keeping in mind the fact that the future work programmes are still under preparation, the idea here is to start identifying interesting calls for projects related to plant-proteins development and to facilitate the matchmaking with innovative regional projects and actors that present a potential for European collaboration. These sessions would be open to more regional participants, such as economic actors, Universities, clusters, research institutes, etc.
The main programmes of interest for project development aspects are Horizon Europe and Interreg. Additionally, the LIFE programme as well as Erasmus + (for skills development aspects) may be considered. We will also keep an eye on smart specialisation, opportunities to collaborate in the smart specialisation platform and/or to discover opportunities with the new interregional instrument in the ERDF (interregional innovation investment, I3).
Framework of the working group
The regional coordinators of the WG are Pays de la Loire (France) and Extremadura (Spain).
It is envisaged to hold 3 to 4 meetings every year. This amount might change depending on the publication of European calls for projects and possible needs for further project development.
Members of the WG PLANT PROTEINS