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In a historic first, China’s President Xi Jinping has referenced alternative proteins in a speech during which he underlined his support for domestic food innovation. Speaking at a meeting with agricultural, social welfare and social security sector figureheads, he made statements that positively impact the country’s burgeoning alternative protein industry. News of President Xi’s perceived acceptance of plant-based and cultivated meats spread soon after the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Key takeaways from President Xi’s speech include a need for China to develop its own unique proteins, particularly from plants and fermented microorganisms. The declaration has been welcomed by the alt-protein sector and seen as a sign of government engagement.
Fulfiling a food security mandate
In his speech, President Xi appeared to embrace new thinking that was not constrained by conventional protein sources. “It is necessary to establish a big food concept…(and) it is necessary to ask for food from forests, from rivers, lakes, and seas, and from facility agriculture, he said. “At the same time, it is necessary to expand from traditional crops and livestock and poultry resources to more abundant biological resources, develop biotechnology and bio-industry, and seek energy and protein from plants, animals, and micro-organisms.”
Specific mentions of biotech and bio-industry have led observers to speculate that President Xi is giving a tentative seal of approval to cultivated meats, as well as plant-based substitutes. If true, this will have a significant impact on legislation and policies connected to the sector, potentially allowing for easier commercialisation.
Elsewhere in his speech, President Xi gave insight into the challenges that have led to an acceptance of new food sources. He talked about the world having entered a “new era of turbulence” which has necessitated China to retain a more insular perspective and start looking to domestic food options. He noted that the “rice bowls of the Chinese people must be filled with Chinese grain” and that the socialist political system offers significant advantages when looking to embolden domestic industry.
Food security has become an increasingly burning issue in China. Following an outbreak of African Swine Flu that left pork supplies dwindling, Covid-19 and now the Ukraine conflict, President Xi appears to be making moves to encourage more protein to be developed within China, to reduce reliance on other countries and strengthen self-sufficiency.
President Xi noted that “there is no room for any slightest relaxation on the issue of food security. You cannot think it is no longer an issue because we have industrialised, and you should not expect to rely on international markets to solve it.”
Strong market signals
President Xi’s speech bolsters confidence globally that alt-proteins are a significant route to food security and a weapon against climate change, as the latest IPCC report unilaterally declared. Non-profit industry think thank the Good Food Institute (GFI) APAC is in agreement as well.
“President Xi’s powerful declaration in support of food innovation—coming hot on the heels of China’s latest five-year agricultural plan, which called for increased research into cultivated meat and other novel proteins—suggests that sustainable protein production could play a key role in realizing the nation’s green economy vision, right alongside renewable energy and battery manufacturing,” Mirte Goske, acting managing director of the GFI APAC said in a statement. “If China can do for plant-based, fermentation-enabled, and cultivated meat what it is already doing for clean energy, the result could be a global food system that is dramatically safer and more efficient than the one we have today.”
It was reported in January that for the first time, China had included ‘future foods’, including cultivated meats, in its five-year agricultural plan. The tentative step was met with optimism that further support could be lent to the alt-protein sector, in time. President Xi appears to have confirmed that such support is incoming.
In a new report, J.P. Morgan, the US’s largest bank, appears to mirror President Xi’s thinking. The financial giant cites the global food system as being an enormous challenge but also a prime opportunity. It iterates that both climate change and environmental sustainability could be tackled through the development of new food sources. Alternative proteins are specifically named as an innovation that needs to be prioritised.
Lead composite depicts President Xi.