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Bringing the Protein Transition to Life with Data-Driven Insights

By Impact Institute

This article is part of Impact Expert Series, where we speak with the world’s leading experts in impact measurement and management – offering solutions to pressing societal, environmental and impact-related challenges.

The current food system is responsible for more than one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a whopping 47% of which is caused by livestock, land use for livestock, and fish farms. If we are to reduce the negative impacts that the food system generates, the way we produce and consume different proteins needs to change. To effectively advance the Food System Transition, one must advance a protein transition as well.

The growing interest of Europeans in alternative proteins lays the perfect ground for the dietary shift towards sustainable and healthy nutrition and food systems, in line with the ambitions of the EU Green Deal, Farm to Fork strategy and EU’s wider climate goals. Among these initiatives, LIKE-A-PRO, an EU-funded project worth 13.9 € million, aims to further the protein transition by developing healthy, delicious, and accessible alternative proteins.

We met with Mariasole Petti, a Responsible Value Chain professional and a longtime protein transition champion, to learn more about LIKE-A-PRO and the exciting progress in the protein transition.

Toward Responsible Value Chains

Petti’s interest in the protein transition goes way back. At age 14, she adopted a vegan diet, a decision which still raises quite a few eyebrows back in her home country of Italy. When asked about her personal connection to the protein transition, Petti explained that in tackling the sustainability, health, and ethical challenges of an everyday diet, nothing is more valuable than obtaining scientific data about best practices. As part of the Responsible Value Chain (RVC) at Impact Institute, she devotes much of her time to doing exactly that.

LIKE-A-PRO engaged Petti and others in the RVC team to examine the socio-environmental impact of proteins using their expert measurement and valuation methodology. The way to go about it, Petti revealed, is to measure and compare the impacts of conventional and alternative proteins.

Comparing and measuring conventional proteins

The production process of any type of goods comes with negative effects, impacts which can be both environmental and social. Different goods have different production processes, and use different materials, widely differing from each other. To define an impact as large or small, and to see a product as environmentally friendly or socially responsible, it is necessary to have a reference for comparison.

The RVC team selected five conventional proteins for impact measurement and valuation, an analysis which the team will later carry out for the alternative proteins as well. Milk, soy, beef, pork and chicken were examined on seven environmental and four social impacts and expressed in an aggregated monetary value. The results of the project will tell with certainty whether they are better for the environment and society, by how much, and why.

As LIKE-A-PRO reaches its halfway mark, the team is still waiting for the development of the alternative proteins to finish the comparison. Already, several interesting results came to light from their analysis of conventional proteins. Chicken proved to be the protein type with the highest negative impact on animal welfare. The protein type making the highest contribution to climate change is beef. In the case of pork, most of the negative impacts are tied not to pork itself, but rather to the production of its feed.

While the results are being peer-reviewed by the RVC team’s main LIKE-A-PRO partner, the University of Bologna, the team keeps an eye on ongoing data collection on alternative proteins.

About the Expert

Mariasole Petti is a Data Analyst Trainee within the Responsible Value Chain Team at Impact Institute. She studied International Relationships in Rome where she subsequently obtained an MSc degree in European Economy. After working for an NGO promoting human rights and sustainability, she moved to the Netherlands to finalise her academic journey with an MSc in Global Water Challenges (at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam). Highly interested in the challenges posed by environmental sustainability and economic development, she is dedicated to making a meaningful impact. Reach out to her on LinkedIn.

Alternative proteins: A reason to come together

We asked Petti about the most exciting aspect of working on the project, with collaboration being her immediate response. LIKE-A-PRO brings together talented professionals from vastly different fields all over the EU. The revolutionary collaboration unites scientists, startups, nutritionists, chefs, business experts and many more, all to create a different future where protein is not only delicious and healthy but also sustainable.

Another exciting element which Petti highlighted is the EU’s involvement as a sponsor of the project. In its heart, the protein transition is a societal change, and such changes do not come easy. There is no guarantee that people will welcome changes to their diets, regardless of how widely available they are. A protein transition is a challenge to existing nutritional and health norms and culture, as Petti’s professional and personal observations can attest. Having a trustworthy institution such as the EU to fund the best European experts to conduct their research and to ensure the protein products are of top quality can put many minds at ease.

The sheer scale and complexity of the project is a third testament to its contribution to the protein transition. LIKE-A-PRO is a protein micro-transition, an elaborate experiment showing how the protein transition might look in all its stages from start to finish. It maps out the journey of new protein products from planning and development to customer reception. Even if the alternative proteins developed by LIKE-A-PRO don’t end up catching on in the market, the insights from the project they were part of remain invaluable. Conversing with Petti about LIKE-A-PRO was inspiring proof that the protein transition which our world needs is already underway.

The project is to run until 2026, but some results, including the impact analysis carried out by Petti and others in the RVC team, are already available. To access the project results, visit the client case.

Learn more information about Impact Institute’s Responsible Value Chains Team and involvement in the Food System Transition.

To learn more about LIKE-A-PRO, visit their website.


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