In trend: alternatives to factory farming
Factory farming is coming under increasing criticism. From animal suffering to health risks and environmental pollution, there are numerous aspects that are increasingly marginalizing conventionally produced animal products. This in turn is leading to new alternatives constantly conquering the market.
Background to the trend: more consumer sensitivity to the problems of factory farming
Animal production as a sub-sector of agriculture is still of great importance for the supply of the population today. At the same time, however, political and social interest in species-appropriate animal husbandry, animal welfare and environmental protection is increasing. In addition, more and more people are striving for a balanced, healthy diet. These two aspects are mainly responsible for the fact that alternatives to products originating from factory farming are highly popular.
In recent years, various substitute products for animal products have already conquered the market. This trend is continuing. New alternatives are continuously being sought to meet our protein needs in particular. It is no longer a secret how important proteins are not only for athletes, but for every human being. However, many consumers can no longer consume meat with a clear conscience.
Alternative protein sources will account for about one-third of the market by 2054, that is foreseeable. A clear indication of this is provided by the already fivefold increase in investments in food start-ups dedicated to the production of alternative protein products. Cell- and insect-based proteins, for example, are on the rise. In the following, we briefly discuss the currently most important alternatives to factory-farmed products.
Hybrid products: Animal supplemented by vegetable
Consumer prototype of the target group: “I really enjoy eating meat and drinking milk with great pleasure. I’m well aware that this harms animals and the environment. Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to give it up. Hybrid products help me to make at least a small contribution. After all, this way I consume fewer animal products than before.”
Hybrid products do contain ingredients from animal production, but supplemented with plant-based ingredients. A few examples at a glance:
– long-life/fresh milk with plant-based drink
– Yogurt made from milk and vegetable drink
– Minced meat with vegetable content (see “Less Meat”)
Lab Meat: cell-based in vitro meat from the lab
Consumer prototype of the target group: “I like meat, but after all that is now known about it, I am worried about my health. After all, studies have now shown that heavy meat consumption increases the risk of various serious diseases. That’s why I’d like to see in vitro meat available for purchase in our country soon, too – provided it’s proven to have health benefits over conventional meat.”
Lab meat, often called rennet meat, clean meat or in vitro meat, is produced in a laboratory from cultured cell cultures. Here is a rough overview of the production process, called “tissue engineering”:
1. muscle tissue is removed from an animal.
2. stem cells are extracted from the muscle tissue.
3. the stem cells are propagated in a special container (bioreactor) with a nutrient medium that ensures optimal conditions.
4. the stem cells pass through different stages and develop muscles. They grow together into a larger mass via a carrier scaffold, which is usually made of collagen. This results in very thin layers of meat, resembling minced meat.
5. Similarly, fat cells are grown and combined with the muscle tissue to get as close as possible to the taste of real meat.
However, real steaks or other pieces of meat cannot be produced in this way. For that, three-dimensional scaffolds are needed on which the cultivated muscle cells can fray in any direction. Start-ups are already experimenting in this area. Intensive research is also being conducted into the tissue structure of in vitro meat. The goal is to authentically replicate the texture of real meat.
While no company has yet applied for approval of Lab Meat in the EU, several manufacturers of in vitro meat have already been approved in the USA. However, it is only a matter of time before Lab Meat will also be found on supermarket shelves in Europe.
Whether Clean Meat is actually purer, healthier and more environmentally friendly than conventionally produced meat cannot be clearly stated at this stage. Extensive research is needed to prove its harmlessness and health value, as well as its general benefits.
In principle, however, lab-raised meat and also fish products have the potential to support more sustainable food production. Elementary prerequisites for this are resource-conserving production on the one hand and transparent labeling on the other.
Important to know to properly assess the target group for in vitro meat: In order to grow the muscle cells, animals still usually have to be killed. Lab Meat is therefore still a long way from production without animal suffering. For consumers who are primarily concerned about animal welfare, it is therefore not currently a suitable alternative.
Insect-based proteins: mealworms and grasshoppers to nibble on
Consumer prototype of the target group: “I am neither vegan nor vegetarian, but I detest the way farm animals are treated and what that does to our planet. I enjoy trying out new things, especially when it comes to food. I don’t mind alternatives to factory farmed products being animal-based, as long as they cause less animal suffering and are more sustainable. For example, I can absolutely imagine munching on deliciously prepared insects.”
Under the Novel Food Regulation, two insect species have been approved as food throughout the EU since 2021: the mealworm and the European migratory locust. EU authorities are currently reviewing applications for around a dozen other species. This is giving the potential market for protein-rich foods made from insects the boost many companies have long been looking for. Gradually, manufacturers of insect products are catching up and making up for the initial disadvantage compared to plant-based meat alternatives. U.S. market research firm Meticulous Research predicts that the market for insect-based protein products will be worth about $9.6 billion by 2030.
Incidentally, insect proteins are also increasingly available for pets.
Newer non-animal proteins from specific plant sources
Consumer prototype of the target group: “I think factory farming is so bad that I try to avoid animal products as much as possible. However, I need my proteins, especially since I also do a lot of sports. I don’t mind consuming vegetable proteins. At the same time, I’m also open to newer variants, for example from algae.”
In fact, algae are on the rise right now when it comes to producing plant-based protein products. Microalgae such as Chlorella, Spirulina or Dunaliella consist of up to 70 percent protein. Some of them contain all the essential amino acids, making them complete proteins. Start-ups and also established companies are naturally taking advantage of these properties to offer convincing alternatives to classic and even animal protein sources.
The proven negative effects of factory farming make it clear that alternatives are not only desirable, but even necessary. And the ever new substitute products coming onto the market show that we can also live well without conventionally produced animal products, perhaps even better than ever before.