In August this year, it was revealed that Sydney start-up VOW had secured a government grant to develop and commercialise its lab-grown meat.
Cultivated meats, it was said at the time, present an opportunity to meet the protein needs of a growing global population, while doing so in a sustainable manner — particularly at a time when much of Australia is struggling through gruelling drought.
But more controversial is the development of plant-based meat alternatives.
In October this year, one such start-up, v2food, hit the market, as a partnership between Australia’s science agency, the CSIRO, and Competitive Foods Australia — the company behind Hungry Jack’s.
“Making meat alternatives from plants is not a new idea, but at v2food, we’ve taken it a step further. We are on a journey to make plant-based food both taste better and be more sustainable. The protein substitutes, available to date, simply don’t taste as good as meat and they are not affordable,” its founder and CEO, Nick Hazell, said.
“We’ve drawn upon the best food, nutrition and sustainability science from CSIRO to develop a sustainable and nutritious product, with an unmatched texture and flavour.”
Mr Hazell added: “The goal is for our product to be a delicious alternative to meat, accessible to every Australian.
“With CSIRO’s outstanding research and technology capabilities, the passion of the v2food team led by Nick Hazell and Competitive Foods Australia’s ability to help build and commercialise businesses, we believe that we have the ingredients for a successful venture.”
The University of Sydney is even hosting an event later this month on “The Rise of Veganism: The end of animal farming?”, drawing on the expertise of public policy professional Dr Peter Chen, food politics expert Dr Alana Mann, and obesity and nutrition commentator Dr Nick Fuller to examine whether issues such as sustainability, land clearing and animal welfare will see society as a whole pivot towards a meat-free diet.
Not everyone, however, agrees that meat alternatives can live up to their hype.
The ABC reported in September this year that some nutritionists have concerns that “fake meats” could actually pose new health risks.
It cited research by The George Institute for Global Health, in conjunction with VicHealth and the Heart Foundation, which found that many meat alternatives are very high in salt — with too much salt being linked to high blood pressure, in turning increasing the risk of heart and kidney problems as well as strokes.
For instance, meat-free bacon was found to have 2 grams of salt per 100 grams.
Vegan nutritionist Sami Bloom recently suggested that plant-based meat alternatives have virtually the same health benefits as any other type of fast food.
“They’re usually quite high in sodium, and some of them can get close to the saturated fat content of meat,” she told My Business sister platform Wellness Daily in October.
“They can have little fibre compared to wholefood varieties, but then again compared to meat, they have a little bit more fibre. And then calories-wise, they’re quite similar to meat.”
However, she said that there are some health benefits arising specifically from plant-based meats, such as the lack of antibiotics present in natural meat, but that they should ultimately be viewed more as “occasional or treat foods”.
Regardless of where one’s personal beliefs lie, it seems clear that alternatives to traditional farmed meats are attracting considerable attention and investment, and we’re likely to be hearing a lot more about them in the not-too-distant future.