Digital Report Launch: The Future Appetite for Alternative Proteins

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Joseph Majkut: My name is Joseph Majkut and I’m the Director of the Energy Security and Climate Change Program here and I’m proud to cohost today's event with my colleagues from the Food Security Program. The world is weaving through a web of intertwined challenges. From climate change and food insecurity, to pandemics, and a return to geopolitics against the ebbing flow of globalization.

Each of these challenges has a direct impact on global food security, and together then we can conspire to arrest the progress that characterized much of the last century. Alternative proteins, plant-based meats, lab grown meat, might address some of these challenges. They have obvious impacts. They have the potential to reduce the environmental in[act of food production, improve public health, and maybe even address food insecurity.

But the connection between alternative proteins and national security is not always as clear. That’s why my colleagues at CSIS have spent the better part of the last year trying to investigate that connection. And understand it, characterize it. And what we found is that alternative proteins, should they achieve market share and be produced in the way that we expect them to be, could affect the security of the food system and the risks that it imposes on society. That research led to a report we published today. We’re proud to launch it today on the website of CSIS. And I encourage everybody in the room as well as our guests online to review the report, investigate, and interrogate our findings.

We have an excellent lineup of speakers and panelists to talk about this issue today with you all. We’re particularly honored to welcome Sanah Baig, the deputy undersecretary for research, education, and economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Following the undersecretary’s remarks, my colleague and coauthor Caitlin Welsh will dive into some of the details with a superb group of experts. And finally – and we’ll close with remarks from my friend Bruce Friedrich, the president of The Good Food Institute, passionate advocate for alternative proteins. And we are grateful for the sponsorship that GFI has offered for our research here at CSIS.

I’d like to thank all participants for joining us today and contributing to this discussion. I’m confident we will all go away having been provoked, informed, and inspired. Let’s get started. Thank you so much. Sanah Baig. (Applause.)

Sanah Baig: Good afternoon. Thank you so much, Joseph. And thank you to my Center for Strategic and International Studies colleagues for inviting me to jumpstart this very important conversation on the future appetite of alternative proteins. I so appreciate CSIS and The Good Food Institute for your science-driven thought leadership and dedication to building a more secure and resilient planet. I know that only by working together as partners to advance agricultural innovation can we overcome, as we’ve heard, the overlapping challenges facing our global food systems across climate, biosecurity, nutrition security, and public health.

And as USDA’s undersecretary for research, education, and economics, which is a $4 billion-plus mission area at USDA including four of our science and research agencies, I really understand how important it is to be both – to cast both a strategic vision and to focus on implementation in order to build a safer and more prosperous world. I’m proud in my role to be able to lead thousands of innovators across the country who are focused on accelerating, de-risking, and commercializing, as well as deploying solutions to our complex agricultural challenges. And our measure of success at the USDA science enterprise is translating science into action.

So I’m really thrilled to get to be here today, building on, I know, a lot of robust conversation that it took to create today’s report, to listen in and join in in the discussion on how we can really act on the findings made public in today’s report, and also to share with you some of the work we already have ongoing at USDA. And I really want to start by painting a picture for you, and emphasizing what I think a lot you already know, which is we are at a really pivotal moment for U.S. agriculture, as we emerge from a pandemic that exposed alarming vulnerabilities and bottlenecks in our food supply chains.

The pandemic exposed the risks and dangers created by many of today’s production systems, which value hyper-efficiency over competition, resilience, and safety. COVID also underscored how agricultural policy has long been focused on get big or get out, resulting in the acceleration of consolidation, which we know undermines economic resiliency and robust price competition. And let me say a little bit more about our current landscape. According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, within my mission area, the U.S. actually peaked in terms of our number of farms in this country in 1935. We had just under 7 million farms, 6.8 million, to be exact. In 2022, there were 2 million farms in America.

At the same time also, according to ERS, despite recent record farm incomes, the overwhelming majority of U.S. farmers today, right now, must rely on off-farm income to support their families. And in terms of highly concentrated agricultural industries, the meat and poultry processing sector is perhaps the best-known example. The high degree of concentration across this sector makes our food supply system, and ultimately our families, vulnerable. As we have unfortunately seen, one cyberattack, one fire at a slaughterhouse, or a human or animal health crisis can disrupt a significant share of the nation’s meat and poultry capacity, putting consumers and producers at exceptional risk.

Thankfully, USDA, under the leadership of President Biden and Secretary Vilsack, have been taking sweeping action to tackle structural competition issues and to really create a safer, fairer, and more resilient agricultural market. And that includes investing I more diversified food and bio-based research and development. And in response to President Biden’s executive order to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing, USDA developed a bold goals report released by the White House in March, which emphasized a commitment towards R&D of novel foods that can address global hunger, strengthen national security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Within the report, we also recognize, which many of you already know, global demand for meat is at an all-time high. And protein production will need to be doubled by 2050 in order to feed our growing population. And we simply cannot do this by maintaining our status quo production systems. And fueling all of the work that we’ve been doing at USDA is also our renewed charge to accelerate producer profitability, not just for the few but for the many and for the most.

Ultimately, our hope is to move agriculture in a direction where producers are more profitable and productive, and ensuring the entire system is more sustainable and more resilient.

And with that, I am optimistic that the burgeoning alternative-protein sector could offer our producers great opportunity, while also positioning them to fulfill global protein demand and continue to position agriculture as a crucial piece of fighting our climate and public-health crises. And I say this because we have seen the market, especially for plant-based foods, experience rapid growth in recent years. And thanks to new data released by GFI and PBFA, we know that six out of 10 U.S. households purchased plant-based foods last year, and plant-based meat dollar sales grew 43 percent over the last three years.

At the same time, global interest and investments in cultivated meat and proteins produced through fermentation are also on the rise. And we know that some estimates project the alternative-protein market will be worth more than half a trillion dollars by 2050.

So USDA is paying attention, and we are responding to this burgeoning market demand by increasing our comprehensive research on alternative-protein development, on production, and on nutrition. And I’m proud that under this administration, starting in fiscal year 2021, to date USDA has invested about $33 million in alternative-protein R&D. That includes $15.6 million through our National Institute of Food and Agriculture, NIFA, for research on cell-cultured meat and seafood, plant-based proteins, and other food products for human consumption.

And a highlight: As many of you all know, NIFA, through their Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, AFRI, granted $10 million to Tufts University to establish the National Institute for Cellular Agriculture. And then, through the Agricultural Research Service, ARS, our intramural research agency, we have invested more than 17 million dollars for alt-protein research and development across more than a dozen different locations in this country and at least 18 different high-need research projects.

So, for example, our ARS scientists are developing processes to extract and utilize proteins from plants, such as pennycress, millet and hempseeds, to name a few. They’re developing plant-based protein-texturization methods to enhance product quality and sensory characteristics, which we know are so important to consumers. And they’re identifying factors that contribute to all flavors of ingredients made from things like processed pulses.

And our researchers are even using machine learning and AI to strengthen the foundations for AI-powered protein engineering across agriculture. And we will continue to advance opportunities for U.S. producers to meet the global demand for sustainable protein sources and increase demand for our products as well, as we harness innovation specifically to improve taste and price of these products. And we look forward to engaging all of our partners to advance research that so far, as we’ll hear about later today, paints an optimistic picture about the opportunity for alternative proteins to minimize food-safety concerns, antimicrobial resistance, and zoonotic disease.

And I’ll say all of this is really timely in terms of the conversations we’re having for USDA, because we will soon be releasing our first-ever department-wide Science and Research Strategy. This builds on USDA’s Strategic Plan, which was released in 2022, and it really is our plan to highlight how scientific innovation and technology can shape the future of U.S. agriculture to be more prosperous, more profitable and more sustainable.

And we consider the strategy to be a call to action for all of you, for all of our stakeholders, to propose innovative ideas, solutions and discoveries around our five new priority areas. And we’ll talk about those next week, because the strategy will be discussed in-depth right here in Washington, D.C., as we host the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate Summit, AIM4C.

The summit is organized by USDA, State Department, and really co-hosted by the entire U.S. government and the United Arab Emirates governments. And we’re seeing this as a historic opportunity to engage with agricultural delegations from all over the world on ways to invest in innovative and science-based solutions to combat our climate crisis and growing global hunger. And alternative proteins will be a key part of the AIM for Climate conversations next week.

So, now, let me turn back to the focus of today, which is the launch of this new digital report, “The Future Appetite of Alternative Proteins,” which offers important context for the conversations coming next week, and, as noted in the introduction of the report there is an urgent need to de-risk food supply chains and production methods for all of the reasons that I’ve talked about and, hopefully, you can understand, based on what I’ve shared already, this administration prioritizes investments in public research and development to drive solutions. In fact, in our FY ’24 budget request President Biden proposed the largest ever funding total for federal research and development at a remarkable $210 billion.

This budget is a distinct statement of support for the core American value of investing in a better future through scientific R&D, and with that context I want to close by just offering congratulations to CSIS for bringing so many impactful voices to the table through the release of today’s report.

Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to highlight USDA science and for organizing this discussion, which I hope is the first of many. Thank you. (Applause.)

Caitlin Welsh: Thank you so much, Sanah, for your insightful remarks, which do help lay the foundation for the discussion we’ll be having momentarily, and thank you for making time to join us today at CSIS. It’s an honor to host you.

Before we begin our panel discussion, two notes for our audience. First of all, once we’re finished with our panel discussion we will welcome questions from the audience both in person and online. Whether you’re joining us in person or online you’re welcome to submit questions at the “ask questions here” button on the event page and if you’re in person you can find that by using the QR code on the sheets around the seats.

Second of all, if you haven’t yet you can access our digital report at the “read the digital report” button on our event page, which also if you’re here in the room you can access using a QR code.

Without further ado, it is my distinct pleasure to turn to my colleague, Jon Bateman, who is senior fellow in the technology and international affairs program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, just around the corner from us. Jon was an important contributor to our work on alternative proteins based on his own ongoing research and writing on the topic.

Jon, thank you, and welcome to CSIS.

Jon Bateman: Thank you.

Ms. Welsch: So we’ve spoken in the past about the importance of framing alt proteins as a strategic technology, which is a term we usually ascribe to things like 5G, EVs, artificial intelligence, et cetera. For what reasons do you consider alt proteins a strategic technology is the first question. Follow-on question is going to be why is it important for the U.S. government to include all proteins among their consideration as a strategic technology?

Mr. Bateman: Well, first of all, congratulations on the launch of a phenomenal report. It’s very timely and important, and I think it should be a must read for people in the national security space who are looking over the horizon trying to understand strategic technologies that will define the future, which is, of course, the key question in Washington right now and in many other capitals.

The perspective that I bring to this is someone who’s thought about that strategic technology question and there’s no one definition of such technologies, but I can offer a few lenses and how they apply to alternative proteins.

So you might say that a technology area is strategic if it can make major contributions across a range of priority national interests and I think, clearly, APs qualify as that. If you look at the Biden administration’s National Security Strategy there’s a major section on what it calls global challenges and the top three global challenges it identifies are pandemics, climate change, and food security.

Well, your report really documents the contributions that APs can make in those areas and, to some extent, could be among the leading solutions to actually get at root causes. So that’s one lens.

I think another lens and a point that you make in your report is that economic leadership is increasingly understood as a key facet of U.S. national security. So we’ve already heard some of these projections about the total addressable market. You know, it’s very eye-watering dollar figures. Hard to know what the actual ultimate market will look like.

But what we can say is that when we envision this future industry developing it has so many of the qualities that we’re looking for: advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, high value add, IP driven, export led, opportunities for bread basket diplomacy.

And then I think just the final comment that I would make on this is that another way in which we could identify strategic technology is if there are important synergies to unlock other kinds of technology areas. And I think we can see clearly synergies between alternative proteins and other aspects of the bioeconomy now and into the future.

Ms. Welsh: Thank you. Thanks for that, Jon.

I’d like to turn to reasons that many countries around the world are deciding to ramp up their own investments in alternative proteins. Give us some examples of some reasons why countries are deciding to do this.

Mr. Bateman: Yeah. So in one basket you have countries like Singapore, Israel, the Netherlands. A lot of these countries are geographically smaller. They may have limited arable land and also historical experiences with food insecurity, famine, or the potential thereof. So I think that’s one set of motivations that countries bring to this.

You then also have a country like China. And people may know that President Xi Jinping has personally called for investments in alternative proteins, and in the Chinese system that really moves mountains. His motivation is also primarily about food security. China has historically suffered severe famines in the mid-20th century. It left an indelible imprint on Chinese politics. People may know that China actually has a strategic pork reserve, which is something I don’t think we have in the United States. (Laughter.) But that tells you about the seriousness with which China looks at these issues, because although they produce a tremendous amount of pork and other meat indigenously they rely heavily on external inputs, namely soy from Brazil and the United States. And that’s a vulnerability to China.

Ms. Welsh:

 Sure. Certainly it is.

Let’s turn to the United States. What do you think is or what should be the greatest motivator for U.S. investment? You gave some examples of other countries, but what about U.S. investment in this space?

Mr. Bateman: It’s hard to pick just one. I mean, I do think that climate, pandemics, food security, the geoeconomics, you almost have a constellation of motivations that I think should be driving this. And what I’d like to see is a coalition of different policy communities recognize it and championing it.

But maybe what I would say is that in some ways alternative proteins can be thought of by policymakers as an industry on the bubble. On the one hand, it’s self-sustaining at some scale. It has plenty of private investment. A lot of the initial technologies are already proven. So there’s great opportunity there to catalyze it. But on the other hand, the pace and scope of the scale-up is still in question, and that’s the biggest challenge and risk factor.

So what’s really needed in this industry – like other industries like renewable energy, electric vehicles – is the patient capital that a government can provide. And also, the government is positioned to fund things that have so many obvious positive externalities and public goods, many of which can be thought of as national security. The private sector isn’t going to fully fund it to the level that the public would benefit from it, and so in many ways it is an ideal case for government investment.

Ms. Welsh: OK. Thank you for that, Jon. That is a theme we will certainly return to later in the conversation. Thank you again for joining us at CSIS.

I’m pleased now to turn to another friend and colleague, Dr. Genevieve Croft, program scientist with the BioFutures Program at Schmidt Futures. Like Jon, Genevieve made important contributions to our own research. So, Genevieve, thank you for your contributions and thanks for joining us at CSIS today.

Genevieve Croft: Thank you.

Ms. Welsh: I’d like to start with a question for you about the bioeconomy. Your own work is located within Schmidt Futures’ BioFutures Program, where you focus on the bioeconomy. And I’m wondering, in your perspective, what is the role of alternative proteins in the U.S. bioeconomy?

Dr. Croft: Sure. Thank you for the question. And I’d like to echo those congratulations for getting this report out. It was very interesting to take part in conversations leading up to it, and –

Ms. Welsh: Thank you.

Dr. Croft: – I was so excited to see the final product today.

Yeah. To provide a little context, Schmidt Futures is a philanthropic initiative of Eric and Wendy Schmidt, and BioFutures is our bioeconomy program. And we think of the bioeconomy as economic activity driven by research and innovation in the biosciences and biotechnology, along with engineering and computing. And a robust bioeconomy, you know, for the nation or for the world provides a lot of advantages that we also see hailed in the alternative protein space. And so this includes enhanced environmental sustainability, economic development opportunities, and supply chain resilience. So, as such, we see alternative proteins as a part of the bioeconomy inherently.

While other elements of the bioeconomy are working to reduce our reliance on petroleum and petroleum-based feedstocks, in alternative proteins we’re trying to reduce our reliance on animal-based agriculture and bringing – by introducing ingredients from plants and from cells. So, you know, with alternative proteins we’re using the power of biology in a similar manner.

So then, turning to the – I wanted to, again, bring up this idea of the executive order that Sanah raised earlier. You know, after 10 years after we had the release of the National Bioeconomy Blueprint, that was issued by the White House, the White House again released this document which has been very influential in our field. And it has really resonated with the work that we’re doing at Schmidt Futures. And what it did was it was a call to action for coordination of our national policies to enhance opportunities for innovation in biotechnology, and biology, and enhancing the bioeconomy itself.

And this document itself specifically spoke to this concern, calling for USDA to consider cultivating alternative food sources, of which this concept of, you know, really high-tech alternative protein sources is a component. Sanah in her remarks also mentioned the release of the Bold Goals document, which we were excited to see released in March of this year in response to the executive order. And again, USDA highlighted this as a research opportunity area. So in this sense, it’s very much a part of the entire ecosystem.

Ms. Welsh: Thank you, both for achieving the goals of Schmidt Futures strategy on the bioeconomy, “Charting a Course for a Resilient and Competitive Future,” which you released about a year ago, April of last year, and President Biden’s executive order on advancing bio – on the bioeconomy generally, which was released last September. So thank you for that overview.

I want to turn right now to talking about biosecurity, which is something that we focused on in our own discussions we hosted here. So while it’s true that supply chains for alternative proteins still have inherent risks, let’s talk about that alongside the fact that investing in greater production of alternative proteins can bring benefits in terms of greater resilience for our protein supply chains generally, across the U.S.

Dr. Croft: Yeah, I think that this is a really important point, and one that deserves a lot of consideration. And I think that it is an opportunity to highlight some of the benefits of diversifying our food supply. So, as has been highlighted many times and even today, COVID really highlighted some of those vulnerabilities that we have our food systems, specifically looking at the meatpacking industry. Because we have such consolidation, when some of those plants had to close due to COVID infections or due to public health measures, we saw and increasingly reduced capacity for meat production, and a high cost for consumers when they were going to purchase meat. And so this is bad for consumers, and it’s bad for farmers and ranchers.

You know, thinking about alternative proteins, it’s an incipient industry, from my perspective. And so we’re not totally clear on what are going to be all of these supply chain vulnerabilities that we have. You know, for example, we don’t know how many different production facilities there are going to be, and where they’re going to be located. We don’t know how rapidly they’ll be able to pivot to using alternative ingredients if some of their ingredients that they’re sourcing and require dry up or are unavailable. There are going to be considerations in terms of, you know, how vulnerable are they to cyberattacks, or to reliance on infrastructure, like power or internet, that sort of thing. But all that is to say, as you begin to notice, if we diversify our food supply systems this is an inherent good, and an opportunity. And so I see value there.

Ms. Welsh: Thank you. Thank you. So, again, it’s not that there are no risks to the supply chains from alternative proteins, but by diversifying our supply chains for proteins generally, that builds resilience across the country. So thank you. Thank you there.

Dr. Croft: Agreed.

Ms. Welsh: One last question for you, Genevieve, before we turn to our next panelist, is about ways the U.S. government can support this in many ways still nascent industry. One is funding and one is policy support. So can you give us thoughts on each?

Dr. Croft: Sure, of course. You know, I’m a passionate advocate for public investment in agricultural research. I think it’s a public good, and I know it’s an oft-quoted statistic that for every dollar you put into public funding of agricultural research, you can turn out $20 of, you know, economic value. The question becomes, you know, if we have a stagnant or declining public investment in agricultural research, how do you rank your priorities and how do you decide what to invest in? So we’re seeing a proliferation of priorities and a declining budget. And so we need to make some really hard choices.

You know, we need to think about public investment in things like agricultural research for climate change mitigation and adaptation, that sort of thing. Whereas some of those fundamental research questions for agriculture aren’t necessarily going to attract outside investment from the private sector, I think that alternative proteins has that opportunity. And so, again, when you’re making choices about public funding, that’s something that should be considered.

And then thinking about, you know, if you’re not just going to say, OK here is a certain amount of money for – from the government, be it the federal government or state and local government, for agricultural research, what are other opportunities to help this fledgling industry? And, you know, those may include more creative approaches, like tax incentives for infrastructure investment, or loan guarantees. These are things that can help small companies that are really just about to sort of get over that hump, get across the line, and succeed.

Ms. Welsh: Mmm hmm. OK, thank you. Thank you, Genevieve. And we will come back to these issues as well, perhaps from some different angles, as the conversation continues. Thank you again for being with us.

Dr. Croft: Thank you.

Ms. Welsh: I’m very pleased right now to turn to Matt Spence, who is Managing Director and Global Head of Venture Capital with – Venture Capital Banking with Barclays. Matt is joining us remotely from California.

Matt, it’s really a pleasure to see you.

Matt Spence: Thanks so much, Caitlin. Thanks for having me.

Ms. Welsh: Wonderful. So, Matt, in terms of the focus of our own research about alternative proteins, climate change was not the explicit focus. We acknowledged that the climate-change benefits of investing in alternative proteins have been generally well covered to date. But I actually want to start here, because I don’t want to gloss over this. Can you give us, in your perspective, just a quick overview of the benefits, when it comes to climate change, of increased investment in alternative proteins?

Mr. Spence: It’s a great question. I might just say, just to take one step back, about climate being one of the many important national-security issues we face. This Monday was the 11-year anniversary of the successful operation to bring Usama bin Laden to Justice. And I remember being in the Situation Room working on that, and that was one of the highlighted moments of a very precise victory for American national security.

So we often think about those very immediate things and forget about the very long-term pieces. And the long-term security conversations we’re having here about climate change, biosecurity, investing in the types of technologies that will allow us to compete with China and others I think are as critical as getting in there. So this conversation couldn’t be more timely about the topic.

On the climate-change front, it’s interesting, because most of the very big conversations about climate change focus on automobiles and roads and those pieces. But if you take a step back, it actually turns out to be a much larger contributor to our greenhouse gases, our industrialized agriculture, and animal agriculture in particular.

Nature magazine, for example, cited that either 34 percent or 35 percent of global greenhouse gases come from agriculture. Sixty percent of that is from animal agriculture. If we use the amount of inputs in grain that is used for animal feed, 36 percent of all grain going around the world is used for animal feed and about 35 percent of habitable land is used for livestock production. That has real implications on the use of land that can be used for forests which are instead being used to raise animals for human consumption. It has a huge impact on water.

And the last piece I would say, it just has a sheer efficiency point that we often overlook. I know the Good Food Institute has often talked about this, but chickens, for example, are the most efficient animal to create food for human consumption. It takes seven calories to put into a chicken to produce one calorie of chicken meat that can be used for human consumption. If we look at cows, it is 40 calories of input to one calorie.

So as we’re looking at more efficient ways for us to use transportation and other pieces, we really need to bring food and agriculture as part of the conversation. And it is really rare that you can have a technology that can be scaled and really advance the ball and move things forward. I think that’s a pretty critical part of this conversation.

Ms. Welsh: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Matt. And I will note too that Jon’s own forthcoming report on alternative proteins notes that even if fossil-fuel emissions were immediately halted, global protein production alone would make meeting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree Celsius target impossible. So thank you. Thanks for your commentary on climate change.

I’d like to turn to a couple of things that we did address specifically in our report, a little bit more so than climate change, one of which is pandemic preparedness involving both antimicrobial resistance and zoonotic-disease transmission. Can you say a few words about the potential of alternative proteins to mitigate both of those risks?

Mr. Spence: It’s a really critical piece. It’s one of those deep national-security issues that we only think about it when it becomes a front-page headline. And then it’s often only time to react rather than to prevent it.

Just to take one example is the sheer amount of the antibiotics that are being used to actually produce our meat for human consumption is enormous and even growing. And as we realize that that has been done, what we’ll actually do to create more pieces there really becomes pretty significant. As we look at the future of growing pandemic risks, one of the major contributors to what we can be doing now, it’s at the very top of what we’re seeing.

Ms. Welsh: Great. Thank you. Thanks for that, Matt. And you made the point, and as part of our own conversations and our own research, that we are not putting forward the idea that alternative proteins are the most effective way to address these things, but we are saying that they are an important way and that there are important benefits with regard to pandemic preparedness of investing in alternative proteins.

Matt, I want to turn to a really important point that I know you’re very well placed to discuss with us, which is the national security and economic competitiveness aspect of investments in alternative proteins. Based on your experience in the government, at the Department of Defense and at the National Security Council, you have come to frame alt proteins as an important tool in economic competition with China in particular. Can you talk to us a bit about this?

Mr. Spence: You know, it’s a critical piece. I mean, I remember when I was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy I traveled to the region probably 20 to 30 times in about two and a half years. And the main point of our conversations were to talk about conflicts like, how do we plan to a contingency military operation against Iran if they race to a get nuclear weapon? How do we provide missiles and planes to defend against the huge security threats with our allies and partners?

But I was really struck that some of the biggest questions that the leaders of these countries wanted to talk about were fairly basic: What happens when we run out of land and what happens when we run out of water? And it’s very difficult to feed a growing population – as populations earn more money, they want to consume more meat. And the numbers don’t add up there, which is why I think you see a number of these countries in sovereign wealth funds investing in this space. So for them this is not new. It’s a critical issue of running out of land and water.

And then the second piece is, how do we think about America’s global competition for the next prize, and looking at the next great technologies? We are spending a lot of time in Washington now talking about technology and national security, which is an incredibly important conversation. Those discussions focus on chips and semiconductors. They focus on artificial intelligence. They focus on quantum computing, batteries, solar cells, and solar panels.

What we don’t realize is food technology and innovation is happening, whether we want to be part of it or not. And I think as Jon had said, the Chinese say what they’re going to do. When President Xi talks about investing in an innovative food solution, we know what the game plan is. So we know it’s going to be happening. So now is really the time, if we want to continue to compete by having a technological lead to the rest of the world, we need to invest in these technologies now so we’re not playing catch-up like we’ve done with chips, and 5G, and semiconductors, and these things.

And I’m not saying that this needs to be an adversarial relationship with China. I mean, on food security, this is one of the areas we need to find ways to compete, but we need to cooperate from the position of strength. And that’s why now the investments that you talk about in the report and the other pieces I think are critical. Because if we don’t get this done now, we will not have time to effectively do it in the future.

Ms. Welsh: Thank you. Thanks so much for that, Matt.

Last question for you is about public support for alternative proteins. Can you share with us some of your thoughts there?

Mr. Spence: Sure. I think – I spend a lot of time with investors in the alternative proteins space and some amazing founders who are building this space. And if you look at the nature of what alternative proteins are, it requires a high amount of capital expenditures. To make food, and grow it, and sell it to people is a different economic model than your groups producing software, or something that just scales pretty easily. You need to build real things, and building bioreactors, or precision fermentation, or getting the ingredients is expensive. It’s expensive and it’s important.

Now, this kind of deep technology, synthetic biology, can create terrific returns. But the private sector has invested an enormous amount here. Venture capital investing is terrific, but to really grow in scale you need to move from venture capital investing into more scalable technology. And if you look at other technologies which are similar – electric vehicles, which are deeply important, have great returns but also require a lot of capital expenditures in physical things – that is where the government can be helpful to buy types of non-dilutive financing, for example.

So if you’re building a bioreactor, it is much less efficient to use your equity to build it than to borrow money and to use debt. And I think now is really the time to think creatively about that. And I think we’ve seen some real leadership and opportunities from programs like Jigar Shah’s Department of Energy loan program. Some other nations are doing this. There’s some opportunities for the Development Finance Corporation to do some of this in emerging markets. And this is not government capital that is replacing private-sector capital. We have an enormous amount of investors who have made these investments. They’ve done well. This is the time, look, how do we take it from a smaller scale to do it so it actually has the potential to have a global game-changing impact?

Ms. Welsh: Thank you. Thanks for that, Matt. I was going to ask you for some thoughts about some specific sources of public funding, so thank you for preempting that question and offering those.

I will turn to questions from the audience in a few moments. And before I do that I just want to put in another plug for questions from the audience. We would love to hear from you. So please submit questions at the “ask questions here” button and at the QR code here.

But before we turn to audience questions, just want to turn back to Jon and then to Genevieve. Any comments to add based on what you’ve heard your co-panelists say?

Mr. Bateman: I mean, just one point of resonance with what Matt was talking about. You know, it’s interesting; very similar to Matt, my prior career I was an intelligence officer. I focused on military and security issues in the Middle East and so very similar to Matt. We had previous encounters in that context and so it’s fascinating that the two of us coming from that background are both here today to talk about alternative proteins.

I think that does say something about the shift in national security thinking toward longer-term, larger-scale, structural global issues involving technology. I think that’s a positive shift and I think that also tells you something about the seriousness of these arguments, that they make sense, actually.

The other thing I just wanted to maybe elaborate on more briefly, building on what Genevieve was talking about, is possible synergies between alternative proteins and other aspects of the bioeconomy. I mean, we are already seeing some of this play out today.

The cultivated meat space is building on technologies and engineering achievements that the pharmaceutical space had previously developed but is now taking them in new directions, thinking about ways to lower costs, increase scale of production. These are the same kind of innovations that can conceivably catalyze other forms of biotechnology and bioeconomic development, you know, in a host of other areas.

And so that kind of virtuous cycle between alternative proteins and other aspects of the bioeconomy is another reason why, you know, the government is well placed to envision future hubs of science and engineering in which, perhaps, the alternative protein sector could create some of the industrial base from which to launch a 21st century bioeconomy.

Ms. Welsh: OK. Thank you. Thanks for that, Jon.

Genevieve, anything you’d like to add?

Dr. Croft: Yeah. No, I just – I love to hear the diversity of perspectives and all those comments are very interesting.

I wanted to add to some comments that you had, Jon, and that you did as well, Matt, thinking about, you know, what should motivate U.S. investment and sort of what do you do with a relatively new industry that many people are in agreement that would be worth supporting.

And, you know, harkening back to the Schmidt Futures’ bioeconomy taskforce report that we came out with last year, as I understand it the taskforce members in developing that report gave great consideration to the economic development opportunities that investing in the bioeconomy, strengthening the bioeconomy and, you know, in the sense of alternative proteins being a component of that has the opportunity to rethink industry that we have in the U.S.

So we’re not necessarily just needing to invest in San Francisco and Boston where we already have a very strong biotechnology industry, but we have the opportunity to think more – in a more regionally distributed manner. You know, can we put infrastructure in the middle of the country? In the Rust Belt? In the South? Can we develop workforce development opportunities for people who may not have other economic opportunities?

And so when we have – again, just to really underline this point, when we have a new industry like the one that we’re discussing today as part of the bioeconomy there is an opportunity not just to do things the way that we always have but to think more about how it can benefit society writ large here in the U.S.

Thank you.

Ms. Welsh: Yeah. Thank you. That’s an excellent point and thank you. That preempted other question that I had wanted to ask you. So thank you for offering that information.

I actually want to jump into questions right now. We have questions online, both from Maryland and from California, having to do with legislative opportunities for supporting the development of the alt meat – alt protein industry about the Farm Bill in particular. With the Farm Bill on the horizon what should Congress do in that reauthorization to help grow the alternative protein market was one formulation of that question.

But I’ll offer that to the panelists. I see Jon and Genevieve exchanging glances. But, Matt, maybe you have some thoughts there.

Mr. Spence: Sure. I think – I mean, a big piece that, I think, needs to happen maybe I’ll just say broadly before talking about the Farm Bill is for all the investment we’re talking about in the Inflation Reduction Act, the infrastructure bill, and climate change to modernize our economy and think about what more we can do, food and agriculture should be part of that conversation, whether it’s just in the ag bill or other pieces.

I mean, one thing, just to frame the comments following up on what Genevieve said, is there’s a real potential for a lot of high-quality jobs to be created here. You know, McKinsey put out an interesting report that was commissioned by the U.K. government in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and it predicted that by 2050 alternative proteins could support as many as 9.5 to 9.8 million good factory jobs.

So when we think about that, it’s important to remember this is not a question of the burger versus the future. This is about creating great jobs that can help support food. So I think on that, probably Sanah and others would be better positioned to talk about the farm bill. But I would say as we think about a new wave of innovation – and again, be it loans, non-diluted capital, and patient capital so you can allow these very expensive things to be built and at scale, so companies can focus both on building their brand, building a great product, working on the supply chain, but also have fuel to accelerate the type of growth of what we’re doing here.

Mr. Bateman: Can I just quickly add to that? I think the farm bill is a great vehicle, but I think part of the message of your report, and I think this panel today, is that we also need to active vehicles of constituencies that are beyond the realm of agricultural policy itself. So thinking about, for example, the CHIPS and Science Act, which creates this massive new – technology directorate in the National Science Foundation that’s supposed to be funding strategic technologies of the future. I think it could easily fall into that bucket as well.

Ms. Welsh: Thank you. And I think that’s a good segue to another question that we received online. It’s about partnering with agricultural workers. And the person asking this question noted that a lot of the conversation we’re having so far has to do with technology, science, financial capital, et cetera. How do we, writ large, plan to partner with individuals in production agriculture, knowing that they will be essential to this – to this transformation we’re talking about? Any thoughts there about the interaction among these different constituencies?

Dr. Croft: Yeah, I can try and go first here. You know, I think when we’re thinking so broadly about alternative proteins and the opportunities there, biotechnology, the bioeconomy, it is difficult to bring in that very personalized recommendations of how you can engage with these constituencies. I think that we do recognize that agricultural producers are going to be providing the base material for many of these alternative proteins. And so, you know, it will be important to reach out to associations that are involved in, you know, producing corn, and soy, and that sort of thing. There are lots of opportunities, but I think that, you know, I couldn’t speak specifically.

Ms. Welsh: OK. Thank you. Great. Matt, do you have any thoughts there, or?

Mr. Spence: Yeah. The one thing I’d say is it’s easy to frame this conversation as a series of tradeoffs. That may be a little bit of a false dichotomy. This is not a case of a car company trying to build the electric car. I mean, as you think about different constituencies, I think it’s notable that Archer Daniels Midland, Tyson, very large food and meat producers have actually made investments in strategic partnerships with some of the companies in that space. That’s something that really deserves a lot of note.

And maybe, to the point of this very good question about how do you think about the future of workers and others, what strikes me about the conversation here is there are three or four separate conversations that I think your report, Caitlin, does a great job of merging. There’s one conversation about food and agriculture. There’s a second conversation about climate change and power and energy. There’s a third conversation with sovereign wealth funds and these type of debts. And there’s a fourth conversation about how to create great, high-technology and high-quality jobs in the future. But I think one thing that this report does very well is it brings those conversations together in the same room with, here, a national security framework overlooking all of this.

And I think if there’s something that our audience could walk away from, is to think about let’s bring these conversations together. These are excellent questions. They work together. And alternative protein is one of many types of platforms that can bring us together and give us some real solutions to do something with.

Ms. Welsh: Yeah, thank you. Thank you for that, Matt. I appreciate those words about the report as well.

One last question I’d like to ask before I’ll ask one common question of all the panelists. But this question is, generally speaking, about the way that we’re thinking about benefits that could experience through increased investment in alternative proteins. And this is about the idea of either supplementing protein production that exists right now, animal protein production, with alternative protein, or replacing. So and I think that there are degrees of benefits to be accrued depending if you’re talking just about supplementation or about replacement. But, Jon, can you give us some thoughts about your – about that?

Mr. Bateman: Sure. Yeah. I think there’s different views about kind of what’s the endgame here and what we should all be driving toward. But to some extent, it’s probably a moot point. I mean, we heard from Sanah earlier about how global meat production is expected to double of the next few decades. So under any scenario, even the most wildly ambitious alternative protein scenario, we’re going to continue to experience growing demand for conventional meat into the medium term. So I don’t know that anyone’s ox is being gored economically in terms of that actual – there’s opportunities for, like, the whole sector here.

But I think Genevieve really put it very well, that alternative proteins offer an opportunity for diversification, right? So to the extent that there are supply chain risks or challenges that come from the alternative protein space, at least those won’t be 100 percent correlated with the fragility and concentration that we currently see in the animal agriculture space. If we can de-correlate those things and have an alternative industry develop side-by-side, that is all to the good. And ultimately, the benefits of alternative protein scale with the scale of adoption. I don’t think there’s any single kind of threshold point where before that point we get no benefits, after that point we get all benefits. Just more is better.

Ms. Welsh: Sure, yeah, OK. Very well put. Thank you, Jon. So one last question for all panelists before we turn the microphone over to my friend and colleague Bruce Friedrich. My question for panelists is this: Regarding the future of all proteins, what do you think is the most important unanswered question? And if you have an answer to the question, we’d love to hear your answer. And if you don’t have an answer, tell me what you need in order to answer it? And I’ll go in reverse order. We’ll start with Matt, and then go to Genevieve, and then to Jon. But again, Matt, what are your questions about the – your thoughts about the most important unanswered question so far?

Mr. Spence: It’s a really great question. I would say there are probably two.

One is: Where will the capital come from to scale this? I think there are some great ideas. We just need to move this from thoughts into reality.

I think another second question to think about is: What will it really take for people to think about alternative protein on the same way for cost, taste, and health, that we look at eating traditional meat, as how we’re looking at how we used to get oil to light lamps from whaling? You know, there’s a technological piece that always changes here. And these questions are important.

The - (audio break).

Bruce Friedrich: (In progress following audio break) – antibiotic residues. So we’re literally giving consumers what they want at a comparable or lower price.

And really just to underline, this is not convince people to eat less meat, which is my fourth point. There are two things being discussed in the global food conversation about how we can change the need globally for twice as much meat in 2050. Thing one is convince people to eat less meat – educate people about the climate impact, educate them about global health, the other external costs. And unfortunately, that is probably making a dent but it’s not changing the trajectory. Even in the United States, where the external costs are as well-known as they are anywhere in the world, the five highest years for per capita meat consumption in the United States are the most recent five years. So education is critically important, but education is not going to scale globally.

The one thing that we’re talking about that might is let’s make meat from plants and let’s cultivate actual animal meat from cells. And because it is so much more efficient, as it scales up we can compete not just on taste but also on price. And the thing about this is, it’s the one thing in food and agriculture that analogizes to renewable energy and electric vehicles. So with renewable energy, there is basically an understanding that globally through 2050 the world will consume more energy year after year after year after year. Should we be making more energy-efficient buildings, more energy-efficient light bulbs, conserving energy? Absolutely. But if we really want to win, we need alternatives to fossil fuels; similarly, with the replacement of gas-powered vehicles with electric vehicles.

Every projection, 100 percent of them, we are going to drive more miles. We are going to have more cars as the world develops and there are more people on the planet. The solution – we should absolutely be supporting walkable cities. We should absolutely be encouraging people to ride bikes and walk. We should absolutely be doing things to educate people about the harms of traffic to climate change. But what we really need absolutely to do, a critical part of the solution, is electric vehicles.

The exact same thing is true here. Education is very, very important. But at the end of the day, we’re going to have something like twice as much meat in 2050. One tool in the arsenal of addressing the external costs that we talked about today is let’s make meat from plants and let’s cultivate meat from cells. It is not a silver bullet. It doesn’t solve every problem of our broken food system. But it is an essential ingredient in moving us in the right direction.

My penultimate point is the economics of it. This got a lot of attention, I think, from all of the panelists, as well as from Matt – sorry, he’s one of the panelists – from all of the panelists, and also from Sanah at USDA. I just want to underline that U.K. Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office report. It projects that by 2050, with fairly limited government support, alternative proteins could have a gross value add to the global economy of $1.1 trillion; could add, as Matt mentioned, 9.8 million new good jobs; and would also, incidentally, have $5.5 trillion in climate benefits.

One country that we have seen really go all in that I think we haven’t talked as much about is Canada. Canada has put – their government has put more than $350 million into alternative-protein infrastructure. That money has gone into the prairies. That has gone into Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. And their farmers and their manufacturing base see alternative proteins as an opportunity.

The government of South Australia has similarly seen South Australia – Canada sees Canada as a production hub and as a real opportunity, especially an export opportunity, for farmers. And, in fact, Beyond Meat, the plant-based meat company, their peas do, in fact, come from the prairies in Canada.

The last thing I want to say is that CSIS has produced a stellar piece of thought leadership with this report. And we are looking forward to the broader global food and national-security communities understanding and leaning in on the national-security imperative that is creating a robust alternative-protein industry in the United States.

I couldn’t do better than CSIS with the last two paragraphs of their report. It’s just five sentences, so I’m going to read them to you real quick. This is the conclusion to the CSIS report. And I hope you will read the entire report. It’s really extraordinarily well done. But it closes like this.

In the face of these and other national-security risks, investing in alternative proteins presents strategic benefits for the United States. Domestic policy that enhances economic competitiveness is already paying dividends for pharmaceuticals, for clean energy, and for advanced chips for artificial intelligence.

Food production and supply-chain technology would benefit from similar research and development, which is absolutely clear. By creating a nutritious food system that mitigates global threats and enhances U.S. strategic competitiveness, alternative proteins can help shape a safer and more sustainable future. End quote.

So thank you very much to everybody in this room. Thank you again so much to the CSIS team and our panelists. And all of us at GFI look forward to turning the vision that you have laid out into policy and global reality.

Thank you so much. (Applause.)

Ms. Welsh: Thank you so much, Bruce.

In closing, I would like to thank again Deputy Under Secretary Baig for your important remarks and for joining us at CSIS today.

Thank you to our panelists, Jon Bateman, Genevieve Croft, and Matt Spence, for your thoughtful contributions to our discussion here, to the research that we’ve done over the past year, and to discourse about alt proteins generally.

To my partner in this research, Joseph Majkut, the director of the CSIS Energy Security and Climate Change Program.

To my team’s Zane Swanson, in the corner, for superb work draft and leading publication of our digital report.

To CSIS’s Sarah Grace, Marla Hiller, and Katherine Stark for excellent work producing the report.

To the rest of my team: Anita Kirschenbaum, Emma Dodd, and Luke Kvarda.

And to the CSIS External Relations team for your unparalleled support for today’s event and all of our events.

And last but absolutely not least, I’d like to thank Bruce Friedrich and the Good Food Institute and Food System Innovations for your wonderful support and partnership in our work. Thank you. (Laughs.)

And to our audience, thank you so much for tuning in today. Please check out the digital report online. Follow us on Twitter at @CSISFood. And please join us again soon.

This concludes our event. Thank you again.