A*STAR & Pinduoduo Announce First Asia-Based Research On Human Health Impact Of Plant-Based Protein

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A new research collaboration has formed between Chinese agri-food tech firm Pinduoduo and the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI), part of the government’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). The joint study will focus specifically on the impact of novel plant-based meat on human health with quantifiable data comparing the nutritional differences after replacing traditional animal-based proteins. 

Pinduoduo and SIFBI, part of Singapore’s A*STAR, have announced today (May 26) that they will be working together on a first-of-a-kind study examining the health impact of plant-based meat. Unlike environmental life-cycle assessments or animal welfare analyses, the research will focus exclusively on the impact of plant-based protein on human health. 

The study will involve comparing the nutrition of traditional animal proteins with novel plant-based proteins, and the impact on Singapore consumers’ health as a result of substituting animal proteins with plant-based counterparts across different time periods.

“It’s often said that we are what we eat, but increasingly, we have come to realise that our planet also depends on what and how we eat,” commented Xin Yi Lim, executive director of sustainability and agricultural impact at Pinduoduo, one of the leading e-commerce startups in China driving the US$3.6 billion investment boom in online grocery channels within the country in 2020. 

“Personal decisions about food and diet have a collective impact on public health and the environment. We hope that by facilitating and sharing nutritional research, we can all make more informed decisions that are right by us and the environment.”

Pinduoduo and researchers at SIFBI, part of Singapore A*STAR, will be collaborating on a study dedicated to the nutrition impact of novel plant-based proteins. (Image: No Meat)

We hope that by facilitating and sharing nutritional research, we can all make more informed decisions that are right by us and the environment.

Xin Yi Lim, Executive Director of Sustainability & Agricultural Impact, Pinduoduo

It is the second research collaboration between the Shanghai company and SIFBI, having previously launched a joint project to co-develop a portable and cost-effective test for pesticide residues in produce. The study aimed to improve consumer confidence over the safety of food products, a particularly prevalent concern for Chinese consumers. 

Pinduoduo says that the new nutrition study is part of its “broader objective to safeguard the quality and safety of the food” that is being sold on its platform. Last year, the firm sold more than US$40 billion of agricultural products in China. 

For Singapore researchers, the study will provide further insights into how different demographics within its multicultural population will respond to novel plant-based proteins, especially as the city-state continues to bolster its already strong reputation for being a regional food innovation hub. 

Last year, Singapore became the first country in the world to approve cultured meat for commercial sale, and in the wake of Covid-19 related supply chain disruptions, the country has set aside extra investment dedicated to sustainable food production. 

The nutrition study will assess the health impact of replacing animal-based meat with plant-based meat. (Image: Beyond Meat)

Human nutrition is a complex field, and we need more studies that look holistically at the nutritional impact of [novel plant-based] food products over time, to inform the food industry of its potential benefits or the need for reformulation.

Professor Christiani Jeyakumar Henry, Principal Investigator & Senior Advisor of SIFBI

Since approving cultured meat for sale, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has urged alternative protein firms around the world to apply early for regulatory approval for novel food products like cell-based proteins and has launched a new “FRESH” hub dedicated to drive novel food safety research and expedite rules. 

A*STAR has forged collaborations with startups in the field, including with Californian precision fermentation player Perfect Day to create a new joint lab facility to support R&D of fermentation proteins.  

Commenting on the latest A*STAR-Pinduoduo nutrition research partnership, Professor Christiani Jeyakumar Henry, principal investigator of the study, said: “Human nutrition is a complex field, and we need more studies that look holistically at the nutritional impact of [novel plant-based] food products over time, to inform the food industry of its potential benefits or the need for reformulation.” 

“SIFBI is pleased to be part of this partnership with Pinduoduo that can help anchor Singapore’s position as a leading innovation hub for high-value novel foods.”

Results from this study will help add to the bed of evidence available on the health of plant-based meats. Last year, a Food Frontier report conducted in Australia found that plant-based meat substitutes on average contained higher or comparable levels of protein, less sodium and considerably less saturated fat compared to its animal-based counterparts. 

Another study, conducted by Stanford Medicine researchers and commissioned by Beyond Meat, discovered that participants who ate plant-based meat substitutes instead of animal meat saw a significant reduction in TMAO and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, both associated with higher risk of various cardiovascular diseases. 


Lead image courtesy of Impossible Foods.


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