Plant-Based Seafood: A Promising Intervention in Food Technology? - Charity Entrepreneurship Approach Report

by vicky_cox 2 min read17th Jan 20208 comments

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This report is a part of our research process used to select charity recommendations in 2019

The full report is available for download here.

In 2020 we will be following a new research process (details will be published soon).

Scope of research and description of the approach

Animal advocates have been working for decades to weaken the animal agriculture industry by encouraging individuals and institutions to reduce their demand for animal products. Food technology is a novel approach to animal advocacy. It attempts to disrupt and transform the animal agriculture industry by promoting the development of taste- and cost-competitive plant-based [1] and cultivated [2] alternatives to conventional meat, dairy, and eggs. Many people see food technology as a particularly effective way to help animals as it could cause consumers to purchase fewer animal products much more quickly than using moral arguments. Currently, plant-based alternatives to animal products seem particularly promising: the plant-based sector is growing rapidly every year (e.g. US retail sales of plant-based food have grown 17% in the past year [3])

as more consumers reduce their meat consumption (as a result of the rise of flexitarianism [4]) or forgo animal products entirely. Although cultivated meat is still a number of years away [5], it looks set to disrupt the animal agriculture industry even more than plant-based alternatives have. Two-thirds of Americans would be willing to try cultivated meat [6], and many of them would be willing to try it as a replacement for conventional meat.

The following sub-approaches were considered as possible interventions:

  • Product creation: creating plant-based seafood
  • Focusing on marketing cultivated meat products in countries which are more likely to be supportive (even if the total market is smaller)
  • Providing business-to-business cultivated meat technology services
  • Lobbying internationally for fair labelling regulations and inclusion in dietary guidelines for plant-based and cultivated meat
  • Forging strategic partnerships between existing industry players and new cultivated and plant-based seafood organizations
  • Feasibility analysis of slab meat (focusing on priority animals such as fish, turkey, or chicken [7])
  • Market and consumer research for plant-based seafood
  • Technical research for plant-based seafood

Table of contents

Summary of each of the 1-3 charities that could be established in this area (what ask, animal and country it pairs with)

Plant-based seafood product creation to sell in Asia

Plant-based seafood is the product focus as seafood is currently fairly neglected in the plant-based space; only two of the top 10 plant-based meat brands in the US have their own plant-based seafood products. Moreover, fish have a very low welfare score [7], have been identified in our priority animals analysis as a high priority animal [7], and they are extremely numerous, with roughly 73 to 180 billion farmed fish alive at any given point [36], and 0.79 to 2.3 trillion wild fish caught for human use per year [37].

Most plant-based companies have focused on Western markets, but Asia seems particularly promising for two main reasons: 1) it accounts for 88% of the global tonnage of farmed fish produced, with China itself accounting for 55% of global tonnage [38], and 2) it is currently a relatively untapped market for plant-based products. Since humans influence the whole lives of farmed fish and only influence the deaths of wild-caught fish, which is a very small part of their lives, it is likely that the chosen seafood product will be seeking to replace an aquacultured fish. However, a product focusing on wild-caught fish hasn’t been entirely ruled out at this stage. You can read more about the effects of seafood substitute products on reducing the suffering of wild sea animals in a post by Wild Animal Suffering Research [39].

The countries that currently seem the most promising for this intervention are China, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. These countries seem promising because: 1) all countries, except for Singapore, are in the top 25 fish producing countries, with China being the top producer [40]; 2) Japan and Taiwan scored well in our priority country analysis [17]; 3) Sentience Institute suggested that they could all be more open to plant-based and cultivated meat alternatives as they are unafraid of food technology [16] - this is particularly obvious for Singapore since, for example, Singapore’s scientific research agency is advancing meat alternatives as one of three priorities under its $144M food research agenda [22]; and 4) Singapore is one of the few countries in Asia where English is the first language [41] which would be useful since the co-founders would likely not be from the countries targeted.

Conclusion

Our deeper research suggests that while fish product creation in Asia is the most promising intervention within food technology in terms of impact on animals, it is not the most promising intervention for Charity Entrepreneurship to focus on. This is for several reasons:
1) letting the market fund this start-up would be better than us starting this organization as the costs of production are very high;
2) as plant-based foods become more popular, the market will be incentivized to create plant-based seafood, and it will be better for this intervention to come from non-mission aligned private capital than philanthropic dollars; and
​3) when comparing this approach with alternative approaches we might recommend, such as corporate and government outreach, our research suggests it is less cost-effective.


READ THE FULL REPORT

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