Two hands scooping up a small plant from the soil A wide shift in diet could help safeguard Britain's food security. - Media Credit: Adobe Stock

How Alternative Protein Could Be Key To Tackling Food Insecurity In Britain

Changes to our food and farming sectors could help Britain find and keep its footing in these uncertain times

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5 Minutes Read

As the world looks on in horror at the events continuing to unfold in Ukraine, countries around the world, including Britain, are beginning to reassess their own domestic security. We’ve seen it in energy policy, as the true scale of Europe’s reliance on Russian oil and gas becomes clear. But we’re seeing it in yet another staple of everyday life: the food we eat.

Britain’s intensive animal protein sector is, perhaps surprisingly, tied to Russian industry. In rearing cattle and producing animal-based proteins like eggs and milk, British farmers currently rely on Russian and Belarussian exports for a high percentage of the fertilizers and animal feed additives, which are essential components of intensive animal agriculture.

A third of all crops grown in the UK are used to feed animals. Farmers use fertilizers, including ammonium nitrate and potassium, to produce greater yields. According to the government’s Food Security Report, we import around half of our ammonium nitrate, “with 75 percent of imports for fertilizer use coming from the EU and the remaining 25 percent from Georgia and Russia.”

The UN estimates that the UK imports over a third of its nitrogenous fertilizer from Russia and Belarus. And the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates we rely on these countries for almost two thirds of our potassium fertilizer.

We also depend on Russia and Belarus for animal feed; currently they account for 33 percent of all global potassium hydroxide exports, which are used to boost the nutrients in animal feed. And whilst a quarter of the food Brits eat comes from Europe, Europe’s reliance on Russia for energy is having knock-on effects on UK food prices. 

Jemima Webber | Plant Based News

Plant-based solution

There is a solution to this food security issue, and a growing number of British consumers are starting to choose it. Indeed, instead of depending on intensively reared animals for food, which rely on these fertilizers and additives, more and more people are consuming protein-rich ingredients sourced from plants instead.

A recent science journal study found the number of Brits eating plant-based alternative foods nearly doubled from 6.7 percent in 2008 to 13.1 percent in 2019. It’s better for our planet, our health, our animals, and can provide long-term opportunity for British farmers.

Food security and alternative protein

Alternative proteins are foodstuffs made from plants, fungi, or tissue culture that provide a genuine different choice to conventional intensively farmed animal proteins. They rely on what British agriculture does best: crops. Britain is the second largest pea producer in Europe, and so self-sufficient in wheat that we are a net exporter. 

According to the Food Security Report, “the UK is a net importer of dairy and beef” but is “largely self-sufficient in production of grains” (producing 100 percent of its own oats and barley, and 90 percent of wheat). And, it “produces over 50 percent of vegetables consumed domestically.” Supporting alternative proteins means backing more British produce and greater food security at home.

By 2025, one in four of us could be vegetarian or vegan, according to a recent Global Food Security Programme report.  And if we include flexitarians – those who follow a primarily plant-based diet – it could be as many as one in two of us.

Dietary change is coming, British consumers are leading the way and we need a world leading regulatory framework and forward-looking investment so that British industry can lead and guarantee UK food security long into the 21st century.

Supporting the alternative protein sector is urgent if we want Britain to secure a world-leading position in a long-term market that AT Kearney research predicts could take up to 60 percent of the global meat market by 2040.

Instead of using vast amounts of land to produce food for animals, we can produce the same amount of food on 93 percent less land, using 95 percent less water and with far less Russian fertilizer – safeguarding British farming through more efficient use of arable land. And it’s greener too: alternative proteins produce an average of 88 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than animal proteins, helping us on our way to Net Zero by 2050. 

Jemima Webber | Plant Based News

Boosting Britain’s economy

And as well as giving us food security, this could reduce the cost of living through lower food prices and create tens of thousands of jobs. Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy estimates that UK alternative protein manufacturing could create 10,000 new factory jobs and 6,500 farming jobs. And the Department for International Trade has identified that “companies in the North East will be in a prime position to take advantage of the growing demand for plant-based and alternative protein products” as a result of their world-class universities, abundance of land, and manufacturing cluster.  What a great way to deliver on the government’s leveling up agenda!

So as we await the government’s National Food Strategy, it’s our sincere hope that alternative proteins are put right at its heart. That’s why British businesses, academics, scientists, investors, and NGOs have joined forces to create the Alternative Proteins Association, which we recently launched in Parliament.

Let’s support our homegrown industries, back British farmers, go green, lower food prices, create thousands of jobs, and most of all, safeguard Britain’s food security.

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The Author

Jemima Webber

Jemima is the editor of Plant Based News. Aside from writing about climate and animal rights issues, she studied songwriting in London and psychology in Newcastle, Australia (where she was born).

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Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 month ago

The future of the British countryside and British agriculture needs to be decided on the basis of sustainability and the environment not solely on the basis of producing “alternative protein”.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

It isn’t sustainable to use land to grow grains to feed animals. So finding alternative protein to meat vastly increases efficiency and food security.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

Hi Matt, Which bit of the term sustainable do you not understand? Why would anybody want to spend money feeding an animal when it can feed itself? “What’s alternative protein”? And why should you attempt to grow it in unsuitable soils.

It’s the old old story of industrial man trying to bend the laws of nature.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Alternative protein would be any source of protein that isn’t meat. i.e. plants. Animals don’t make amino-acids, plants do. Animals simply accumulate protein by eating it. So why be a secondary consumer when we can be a primary one? Unless you have a very rare genetic disorder that prevents you from tolerating starch.

Humans have been bending the laws of nature sinse before we were human. Fire, animal husbandry, selective breeding, and deforestation are examples of this.

In the UK farmers are paid by taxpayers to maintain grass paddocks. This is perceived as “productive land”. So they graze sheep instead of letting the ancient forests grow back. Why not use the land to grow back forests and raise plants which are eddible to humans? Cut out the middle man and consume amino-acids directly from primary producers. Britain can stop importing chemical fertiliser and feed and draw down a lot of CO2 while they are at it.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

So you still don’t know what sustainable agriculture is?

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Sure I do. Agriculture that doesn’t involve animal husbandry.

Using guild planting, no dig, crop rotation, cover crops, and green manuure, you absolutely don’t need animals. If you use animals in a system it’s a significant net emitter of CO2e and uses too much land. That’s not sustainable. We not only need to reduce overall emissions of our agricultural system but we must also return significant amounts of land back to nature. Only a shift to plant based eating can do that.

For those that absolutely require meat to live (of which I’m not entirely convinced) there could be limited amounts of hunting in natural systems to supply this need.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

Like I said you still don’t understand sustainable agriculture. “Zero input” regenerative Ag (which comes in a vast array different systems, including some that you have mentioned ) is recognised by as the only way forward by most organic and animal welfare organisations ie The Soil Association, Compassion in World Farming and somewhat belatedly The IPCC. With a University background in Ecology and Conservation management and day to day contact with the farming community ( the good the bad and the ugly) I can see no other way forward. Idealism has no role to play in the practicalities of land management.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

So we’re in agreement, carnism needs to end to create a sustainable agricultural system.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

We need to get rid of all ISMS.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Roland we agree that agriculture needs to be sustainable. We just don’t agree that meat production needs to be a part of that.

Because every system that I have been shown regarding meat production looks like greenwashing from people whom still believe meat consumption is necessary.

Can you describe a system of agriculture that has sufficiently low CO2e that does not involve a shift to a plant based diet? And what level of meat consumption would actually be sustainable given our global population? Remember we only have 8 years left to reach our climate goals and global meat consumption is increasing.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Can you say what ISMS means please Rowland? Also I have more info on AS, if you are interested. I still don’t buy that someone with AS needs to eat animals.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

Isms, as in carnism, veganism etc. Why are animal foods necessary for AS? Mostly for calories, protien, n3 to 6 balance and a wide range of other nutrients.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

What is “n3 to 6”?

You understand that animals don’t create nutrients, they simply accumulate them.

Check this out: The Link between Ankylosing Spondylitis, Crohn’s Disease, Klebsiella, and Starch Consumption

It may be starch is a problem with AS due to a leaky gut an that under normal circumstances unrefined starch is just fine for people with AS. So it’s absolutely unnecessary to eat meat. For people with AS and everyone else.

So involving meat production in agriculture is wrong headed right from the start.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

n3 and 6 = Omega.

Klebsiella theory (Dr A. Erbringer 1990s ) possible in some cases but not proven.

Whole grains and some other plant foods exacerbate leaky gut eg. Coeliac disease.

Agricultural situation is completely separate from AS or any other condition. It’ purely about soil and biodiversity.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

When you get your omegas from plants the ratio of 3 to 6 is much better. The whole thing regarding omega 3 fatty acids is just a way to sell suppliments. And it’s destroying the krill population by the way. A population which should be left undisturbed to maintain ecological balance in our oceans.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

I don’t agree with or take supplements or medication. Neither are necessary.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

And omega 3 is a non issue if you eat a variety of whole plant foods.

Medication or supplements may be necessary in certain circumstances. But should be a last resort, not a first option.

Matt
Matt
29 days ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

So your belief that animal husbandry is necessary for sustainable agriculture is in no way related to your belief that meat consumption is necessary? I’m not buying it.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
29 days ago
Reply to  Matt

I don’t believe that animal husbandry is necessary for long term soil health, I KNOW IT IS, 50yrs involvement in conservation and land management plus constant contact with the farming community and agronomists tell me all I want to know. I do not allow my personal views to influence the facts ( I don’t eat agricultural produce! ) but most people do.

Matt
Matt
28 days ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

How many veganic operations have you observed?

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Compassion in World Farming advocates a shift towards a plant based diet. “For animal advocates, conscious consumers, planet protectors, nutrition nuts, and anyone who wants to save the world by exploring the wide world of plant-based eating—whether you’re looking to dip your toes in the plant-based pool or take the full plunge.”

Regarding a shit to sustainable agriculture:
“Securing these changes will not only require us to end factory farming, but to replace it with a resilient, regenerative, and more compassionate food and farming system—massively scaling back our production of consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy in favor of more sustainable plant-based alternatives and replacing intensive animal agriculture with robust higher-welfare systems.”

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

You’re getting there slowly. Well done!

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

What are you talking about? Compassion in World Farming even goes as far as directly promoting Beyond Beef and Impossible Burgers right on their website.

They promote a whole range of “alternative proteins”. In agreement with this article that you criticise.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

“Farm fewer animals. Rear animals in higher welfare and nature- friendly farms such as organic, pasture-fed, or mixed crop and livestock systems” Compassion in World Farming.

Although it’s considerably more complex than that, given the wide range of habitats, It’s not a million miles away from what I am suggesting.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

We would need to raise SIGNIFICANTLY fewer animals. People would go into shock realising that they just became flexitarians.

People like you should love people like us (vegans). Because without us there is no way we create a sustainable food system while you continue to eat as much meat as you want.

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