• Coronavirus pandemic may add fuel to the world’s shift to alternative proteins
  • Investments in alternative-protein companies have risen in recent years, as numerous startups sell plant-based protein and experiment with insects and lab-grown fish
  • With China expected to promote plant-based proteins and socially conscious millennials worldwide eschewing meat, feeding Earth’s population may damage the planet less

The deadly coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe may end up being an unintended ally in the fight against climate change by accelerating the movement toward plant-based and alternative-protein food.

Health officials haven’t determined the exact cause of COVID-19, which has sickened more than 460,000 people worldwide and killed almost 21,000. While the World Health Organization says current evidence indicates that it may have originated in bats, others say the virus was transmitted to humans in Wuhan, China at a “wet market,” where animals like bats, snakes, rabbits and birds are illegally sold.

The pandemic raises “questions surrounding the role of livestock meat and the wild animal meat trade in disease epidemics,” Hong Kong-based Green Queen, which advocates for social and environmental change, said in a report last month. “Our current global food system must undergo a dramatic transformation if we are to avert multiple health, environmental and physical crises.”

Activists and environmentalists have long pushed for a move away from eating meat, highlighting the brutal ways animals are raised for slaughter and the damage that the industry does to the earth. Factory farming produces more than 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — a greater percentage than the entire transportation sector — and the livestock industry is the main cause of habitat loss worldwide, according to Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return, a London-based collaborative investor network.

The number of socially conscious consumers looking for healthier alternatives to meat has grown in recent years, and investors have noticed. Plant-based food maker Beyond Meat sold shares last year in a high-profile IPO, while rival Impossible Foods said earlier this month it raised $500 million to bring its total to almost $1.3 billion since 2011. Overall, the global alternative protein market was expected to grow at an annual rate of 9.5% from 2019 to reach $17.9 billion by 2025, Meticulous Research estimated before the epidemic.

“We will continue to see a growth in plant-based proteins and other alternative proteins,” Dr. Ben Marandi, managing director of Ontario-based BSD Group, told Karma. “China and Asia will be major markets.” Marandi, whose firm offers compliance assistance to food companies, pointed out that China had begun promoting a plant-based protein diet before the current pandemic after the country was forced to put 100 million pigs to death because of African swine fever. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that effort is expected to take on more urgency.

He added that COVID-19 also may lead to an increase in alternative proteins because of the way the coronavirus disrupted the worldwide food supply chain. Even so, “you won’t see a major reduction in animal-based protein in the next few years but more and more young people are going that way.”

Indeed, there are some signs that the world is growing weary of eating steaks. The 10-year compound annual growth rate in beef output was 0.11%, and trending lower, according to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. 

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