The future of proteins: scenarios & transition paths

The key question for the coming decades is: what will the food system of the future look like? How do we ensure sufficient, delicious, and nutritious food without depleting resources or damaging ecosystems? Central to these question is: how do we handle protein? After all, the way we produce and consume these essential building blocks is no longer sustainable.

In this online session, WUR experts take policymakers and other interested parties on a journey. Where are we now in the protein transition, what can the food system look like and what barriers need to be solved for this to happen?

Organised by Wageningen University & Research

Mon 6 March 2023 13:30 to 16:00

Our Future Proteins

Sjoukje Heimovaara, Chairman of the Board of WUR, will open the session with the launch of a new book 'Our Future Proteins: A Diversity of Perspectives'. In it, over 100 academics from WUR and partner institutes give their - sometimes divergent - views on 'the’ protein transition and the latest developments in this field. After all, there is no single protein transition, as it is a transformation process that can take place in different ways.

The book is based on the 2019 Mansholt Lecture, the start of the WUR investment theme protein transition. After four years of intensive research on this theme, all visions and developments have been compiled in this book. In short, a must-read for every professional concerned with protein transition. After the session, all participants can download the book for free.

Circular Food System Model

One of the co-editors of the book is Interim Chair Holder Farming Systems Ecology Hannah van Zanten. Based on the Circular Food System Model, she outlines a possible scenario for the food system of the future. According to her, the way we treat animals plays a crucial role in this. Animals are increasingly being fed products that humans can also eat. This leads to so-called food competition, in which humans and animals compete for food and natural resources such as land or water. An important question in feeding the future world is therefore: what is the role of farmed animals in a sustainable food system?

With the model, Van Zanten maps how to combine vegetable and animal proteins into a nutritious diet, within the limits of the planet. Taking into account greenhouse gas emissions from food production, fertilizer inputs, human nutrition and other factors.

Transition paths & the way forward

To achieve such scenarios, understanding the possible routes towards them is of great importance. Book co-editor and transition expert Barbara van Mierlo therefore zooms in on the playing field surrounding alternative proteins.

For achieving a shared transition mission researchers, companies, governments and network organisations undertake all kinds of activities to develop solutions for specific problems. Some of these search directions are more dominant than others. Van Mierlo looks at this from a transition perspective, revealing the current direction of the transition and its challenges. This provides an agenda for public debate.

Overall, a protein transition is not merely the shift from animal-based proteins to alternative proteins and a better distribution of proteins around the world, as it is often described. It is a societal transformation process involving both technical and social changes; in behavior, in daily practices, in interdependencies, norms and values, policies and more.

Van Mierlo ends her presentation with suggestions for continuing and encouraging the protein transition, such as providing space for collaboration between social scientists, natural scientists, engineers, industry and social movements, and more support for the transition path of alternative agricultural systems.

Campaign ‘Protein Transition: from Pain Points to Perspective’

This session is part of the campaign ‘Protein Transition: from Pain Points to Perspective’, an initiative of Wageningen University & Research to help the public sector resolve barriers in the protein transition. In 4 sessions (from November 2022 – March 2023) a multidisciplinary team of WUR experts zooms in on the 4 biggest challenges for policymakers AND offers perspectives. From reducing dependency on soy import to shaping a circular food system.