July 7th 2023
SCP Conference: Is the protein transition missing a silver bullet?
The "transforming consumption-production systems toward just and sustainable futures" conference runs from July 5 to 8 in Wageningen. Sytra will give a presentation on the protein transition and share partial results of a systematic review on the protein transition.
Read the full presentation
The protein transition is both a subject of political discussion and a hot topic for large companies’ strategy. Presented as a solution to the problems resulting from animal protein overconsumption and overproduction in high-income settings, the appropriation of the concept by actors of various sectors, including the state, market, and non-profit sector, has brought the protein transition to the border between a techno-centric and a politico-centric transition.
Based on a comprehensive literature review, we identified i) a diversity of definitions and interpretations of the protein transition, ii) the key challenges that it promises to address, and iii) claims associated with the protein transition outputs., We identified different narratives describing how to proceed with the protein transition (i.e., the driver of change, the target(s), and the potential transition pathways), showing that these narratives are embedded in different scientific paradigms, consisting of varying transition trajectories.
A key issue emerging from this process is a lack of integration between the production and consumption side.
The protein transition is mainly defined from a consumption perspective, implying a dietary shift from a diet with high animal protein intake towards more alternative protein intake. Only two articles include a production dimension in their definitions. The review allows us to highlight a lack of perspective on the future of protein production, especially animal protein. Articles either focus on consumption-based solutions, including animal-based product replacement or substitution, thus nurturing a consumer-driven protein transition, or on solutions targeted towards developing alternative proteins for feed and food, thus promoting a techno-driven protein transition. Solutions targeted towards an agri-food system transition are rarer.
The protein transition is promoted as a solution to three main challenges, namely i) environmental impacts of protein production and consumption and the overshoot of planetary boundaries, ii) the need to feed a growing population and provide healthy diets, and iii) impacts of industrialized and/or intensive livestock production systems. If opting for a consumer and techno-driven protein transition may contribute to the target, we argue that it will probably not be sufficient. Embedding these solutions in a systemic approach, including production and value chains, will be necessary to challenge the current meat regime.