The race for protein: How Israel can become leader in Future of Protein

Billions are invested yearly in the race to produce alternative protein to animal-based products, and Israel, a world leader in the “Foodtech” field, has the potential to lead this race.

Photo of beef kebabs produced by Future Meat Technologies, combining textured soy protein and cultured beef fat (photo credit: DUDI MOSKOVITZ)
Photo of beef kebabs produced by Future Meat Technologies, combining textured soy protein and cultured beef fat
(photo credit: DUDI MOSKOVITZ)
The idea of avoiding the consumption of animals and their products has existed in the world for thousands of years. Israel, as many already know, is considered the world’s most vegan country, with some 5% of the general population vegans and another about 8% vegetarians. The reasons people shift to veganism are varied and include considerations beyond concern for animals. Environmental concerns are big for some – animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of all human related greenhouse gas emissions (more than the emissions from all global transportation) and is a terrible waste of  natural resources - in order to produce a single calorie from beef it is necessary to invest over 20 calories in animal feed, an equation that cannot be sustained as the human population continues to grow. Others are worries about Human Health – raising animals in intense factory farms requires using huge quantities of antibiotics, which many researchers claim will bring an end to modern medicine as we know it.
Regardless, meat consumption continues to increase in Israel and globally. Worldwide meat consumption today is six times more than it was during the 1960s. And Israel, despite all its vegans and vegetarians, is the world leader in chicken consumption per capita. So how can the consumption of animal-based food be reduced?
The short answer: technology. The slightly longer answer: finding new ways to produce meat substitutes that are delicious, accessible and affordable.
Billions of dollars are invested every year in the race to produce alternatives to animal-based protein sources (meat, eggs and dairy), and Israel, which in the past decade has become a world leader in the field of “Foodtech”, has the potential to lead this race.
One familiar way to produce meat substitutes is using plant-based proteins. Options such as ‘Tivol’ plant-based products have existed in Israel for years and continue to evolve, now joined by newer next-generation products, such as the famous Beyond Burger, already served in over 200 restaurants in Israel.
A second way is to produce alternatives to meat is by cultivating it – that means growing meat from animal cells in a suitable medium which is identical in every respect to the meat from slaughtered animals . The first cultivated steak was developed in Israel by Aleph Farms using technology developed by the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
Other methods for producing cultivated meat that are under development use yeast and genetic editing. For example, the American company Perfect Day recently launched ice cream made from cow’s milk that did not come from a cow, rather it was produced using yeast that underwent a design process to produce milk proteins. Many researchers worldwide are looking to design various plants so that they can produce meat protein, without needing the animal.
A one-time opportunity for Israeli research and industry
The food industry is one of the biggest in the world, reaching over $10 trillion (!) a year. Of this, the meat market alone is worth some $2 trillion. The business opportunity is clear to all. Conservative estimates are that the meat-substitutes market will grow to over $140 billion in the coming decade. Israel, believe it or not, is today considered a leader in this field.
A long list of groundbreaking Israeli companies and start-ups are already developing all sorts of alternatives, including hummus and quinoa protein, 3D-printed hamburgers, meat substitutes produced from only seven components, groundbreaking plant-based yogurt and a multi-purpose liquid egg substitute. The Israeli Foodtech community already encompasses over 300 start-ups, and new initiatives are popping up almost every week. Big-Food companies, like Tnuva and Strauss, have already been in the field for a while, launching plant-based production lines and technological incubators, and even Israel Chemicals recently announced a 70-million-shekel investment in research and development of alternative protein.
At the same time the world markets have recognized the necessity and growing demand for animal-based product alternatives and initial investments are beginning to reach substantial levels. In order to remain in a leading global position, Israel must keep up with the pace. With food, as opposed to other high-tech industries, particularly high investments are needed in order to reach initial results. Facilities costing millions of dollars are required to produce high-level plant-based meat, and these are in short supply in Israel. Producing cultivated meat requires even higher investments. And if this isn’t enough, Israeli regulation has not yet begun to think about how to contend with the  regulation required to sell cultivated meat, while the Americans and Singaporeans are already actively discussing these issues.
So what will it take for a successful meat substitute industry to thrive here? The Government of Israel has to define alternative protein technology as a national priority. Like cyber. Like desalination technology. The Israel Innovation Authority must finance groundbreaking research and innovation through start-ups, the academia and industry. The Ministries of Agriculture, Economy and Environmental Protection must use the tools at their disposal and the Ministry of Health must quickly formulate a detailed program for the regulation of cultivated meat, so that Israel will also be the first country in the world in which the Israeli products can be consumed. The Israeli Government needs to wake up, otherwise, despite the abundance of Israeli innovation and groundbreaking research, the next Beyond Burger will probably not be developed in Israel.
The writer is the Managing Director of The Good Food Institute Israel that  accelerates the transition of the global food system to alternative proteins, using the power of food innovation and markets.