Q&A: Stray Dog Institute on impact and responsibility in the alternative protein industry

Research Manager at Stray Dog Institute and GFI advisory council member Laura Driscoll Ph.D. on how alternative proteins can address some of the world’s biggest challenges—if they do it right.
Stray dog institute

GFI was excited to speak with the innovative team at Stray Dog Institute, our Presenting Sponsor for the 2021 Good Food Conference, where we explored how alternative proteins can transform our food system and combat climate change, and why the industry must avoid fixing one problem by creating another.

Stray Dog Institute’s core mission is to cultivate dignity, justice, and sustainability in the food system by providing nonprofit allies with funding, strategic research, and collaboration opportunities—an ethos that strongly aligns with GFI’s goal to create a world where alternative proteins are no longer alternative. That said, we are thrilled to have Stray Dog Institute’s support for this year’s conference and hear their take on the current and future state of the industry.

Check out our conversation with Stray Dog Institute’s Laura Driscoll below. Register now for our virtual Good Food Conference on September 22-24, 2021, to experience the deepest dive yet into alternative proteins!

Carolyn: How can the private sector work in tandem with civil society and governments to help support and grow the alternative protein industry?

Laura: Transforming the food system requires complementary action among all three sectors. For the industry, increasing production and expanding product ranges will help to make alternative foods more available to the public and can drive development of alternative supply chains. 

Often, the missing piece for industry is access to capital and resources that can help the market scale faster. Supportive public policy could fund foundational open access R&D that would boost alternative protein industries such as cultivated meat and provide incentives for producers to transition to alternative supply chains. 

Thoughtful advocacy by civil society can support industry growth by influencing overall consumer perceptions and driving broader food culture shift. The private sector can maximize synergy with civil society and broaden its appeal to consumers by taking a larger food systems perspective incorporating intersectional values such as environmental sustainability, human health, animal welfare, and social justice. 

How does Stray Dog Institute think about the food system in relation to the climate crisis, and what role do alternative proteins play?

At Stray Dog Institute, we see alternative proteins as a critical component of food systems transformation that can both mitigate and adapt to climate change. Responding to the climate emergency means we have no time to waste getting to the bottom of the structural problems that have led us to our current food system and its contributions to climate change. While not a panacea for all that is wrong in the food system, alternative proteins are a powerful new tool for reducing consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs. 

To be effective, though, alternatives need to replace—rather than add to—existing animal production and consumption. Overproduction of conventional animal products worldwide generates as many climate-warming GHGs as transportation, primarily from animal digestion and producing feed crops. If grown sustainably, the crops that support the alternative protein industry can sequester carbon, increase biodiversity, and generate far less air and water pollution than animals and their feed crops. 

…food system transformation will not succeed without taking an intersectional approach.

Stray Dog Institute is focused on cultivating dignity, justice, and sustainability in the food system. What do you see as the biggest challenges or roadblocks to achieving those goals?

We believe that food system transformation will not succeed without taking an intersectional approach. The primary challenges that shape our food system are its long history of structural racism, increasing corporate concentration, and the deep entrenchment of industrial animal agriculture. Powerful agribusiness corporations exploit animals and people, propped up by policy and constrained consumer behavior. Unlocking the potential of alternative protein will require seeing all these dynamics as a system and responding with systemic awareness. 

How can alternative protein companies maintain integrity, stick to their mission, and avoid harmful missteps as they enter and grow in the market?

From our perspective, it’s important for alternative protein producers to avoid fixing one problem by creating another. There is much more that needs fixing in our food system beyond animal cruelty and high emissions, and the solutions for diverse problems are deeply interconnected. Innovation in alt protein can’t effectively transform animal agriculture or reduce climate impact if it ignores impacts to biodiversity or deepens injustices in production and inequalities in consumption. 

Alternative protein companies are at the forefront of building a new food system. It will be up to these innovators—and those who fund them—to avoid replicating the harmful economic structures of industrial animal agriculture in alt protein. Along with my colleagues at Stray Dog Capital and GlassWall Syndicate, I would love to see more companies in this space who are interested not just in being in business but in being leaders in food system transformation. To do that, they need to keep an impact frame of mind and hold themselves to a higher standard—one that prioritizes people, animals, and the planet. It could be especially useful for companies to regularly assess their intersectional impacts and consider opportunities for improvement. 

Innovation in alt protein can’t effectively transform animal agriculture or reduce climate impact if it ignores impacts to biodiversity or deepens injustices in production and inequalities in consumption.

What are your predictions for the alternative protein industry in 2022?

Consumers are more aware than ever of the existence of alternative proteins and the benefits of changing diets—including links between production and consumption of industrial animal products and pandemic risk. However, the economic barriers and structural racism preventing wider and more equitable participation in the alternative protein space are still present, and for some consumers, have even intensified. 

However, we believe there is a high likelihood that plant-based growth as a percent of overall food consumption will continue to grow rapidly, with an increased emphasis on cleaner-label products, plant-based seafood, and products with more structure. My colleagues from Stray Dog Capital and GlassWall Syndicate think we will see more companies using novel protein sources such as algae and showing a growing interest in sourcing ingredients from US producers. Cultivated meat products are likely to become available at more foodservice locations around the globe, making the cultivated meat industry more visible. 

Register for the Good Food Conference 2021 to hear more insights from Stray Dog Institute.

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Event

Good Food Conference 2021

The world’s most in-depth, cross-sector gathering focused on the power and potential of alternative proteins to fundamentally change food and agriculture. The Good Food Conference will be held online from…

Author

Carolyn englar

Carolyn Englar SENIOR MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST

Carolyn Englar crafts compelling stories to advance alternative proteins and transform the global food system. Areas of expertise: global communications, media strategy, public relations, relationship management