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

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.


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