Australian agriculture could grow by $31 billion per year by producing a more diverse range of high-quality protein sources.
That’s according to a new report released by the CSIRO which investigated the potential for Australia to capitalise on the growing global demand for protein products. Protein: A roadmap for unlocking technology-led growth opportunities for Australia lays out a strategy to target the development of new protein products in line with consumer trends such as the rising popularity of plant-based diets.
As well as the development of new plant-based products, the roadmap suggests the production of protein powders and nutraceuticals, better-tasting legumes, a more sustainable white-flesh fish industry and emerging sectors such as cultivated meat and edible insects were at the heart of the industry’s growth potential.
“As protein demand grows and new consumer trends emerge, solutions from science can help create new markets and complement our existing, globally competitive traditional markets. This will help shift Australia’s reputation from being the world’s food bowl of commodities to becoming a global delicatessen of unique higher value exports,” said Dr Larry Marshall, chief executive of the CSIRO.
“CSIRO’s Future Protein Mission recognises the scale of this challenge and brings together a wide network of partners with the latest innovative technology to seize this opportunity for a resilient and sustainable food system,” he added.
In addition to changes in consumer demands, population growth presents a significant opportunity for the whole domestic agriculture value chain. The global population is due to grow by two billion people by 2050 and with much of this growth in Asia, Australia is in the driver’s seat of potential suppliers.
“Consumer demand is increasing for all protein sources. Australia has a real opportunity to have a thriving local food manufacturing sector, while becoming a leading exporter in value added traditional, plant, and novel protein products,” said Dr Mirjana Prica, managing director of the Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre.
“Building domestic capacity and infrastructure to not only tap but to build scale, for the plethora of protein opportunities is critical if we are to switch from importing ingredients to producing our own domestically.”
Continued development in technology, innovation and development will be required to ensure that Australia can meet demand in terms of both volume and product format.
“We can supercharge growth in our traditional protein industries by harnessing technologies like digital traceability and integrity systems that enhance the premium status of Australian red meat, and grow new complementary protein markets through techniques like precision fermentation to generate a suite of new Australian products,” said Dr Marshall.
Focus on Edible Insects: “They’re Healthy”
An additional stream of research by the CSIRO is proving the benefits of the emerging edible insect scene, which is proving to have significant nutritional benefits as well as being an environmentally sustainable crop.
“[Insects] have a high protein content and they have good fat. Crickets, for example, have more Omega-3 than salmon, and they have minerals like iron. Some insects have folic acid and different types of vitamins. Green tree ants are high in vitamin C, for example, “ said Dr Rocio Ponce-Reyes, a research scientist at the CSIRO.
Dr Ponce-Reyes said that the industry needed to reflect on the use of insects as part of the diets of Indigenous Australians, who have identified at least 60 different native edible species.
“If you combine this great research capacity with the knowledge of Indigenous people and the diversity of species, this can lead to new opportunities to help the industry grow.”
“It’s also very important to protect the Indigenous IP [intellectual property] when it comes to knowledge about edible insects in Australia. It would make the industry stronger.”