Animal product alternatives (or alternative proteins) are meat, eggs, and dairy products not made from living animals.
Cheap, tasty, and healthy animal product alternatives can decrease animal product consumption and, in turn, reduce farmed animal suffering and mitigate the negative environmental impact of agriculture.
There are two broad categories of alternatives:
Plant-based products made from plants or fungi. Plant-based meats and milks are already stocked in supermarkets, and on the menus of some restaurants and fast-food chains. Estimates suggest that global plant-based meat retail value increased from $2.8 billion in 2017 to $5.6 billion in 2021.
Cultivated meat is real animal meat produced by cultivating animal cells directly rather than raising an entire animal. As of 2023, such meat is significantly more expensive than animal meat and production quantities are very small. There has been considerable disagreement about when such products might become cost-competitive. Forecasts by Rethink Priorities suggest limited production through 2050. Many cultured meat companies make much more optimistic claims, but so far many of their predictions turned out to be wrong.
Acellular agriculture, or fermentation, is the process of using microorganisms to produce proteins and fats (as opposed to whole animal cells), e.g. for dairy and eggs. The technical challenges in fermentation appear more surmountable than in cultivated meat.
These categories are fairly distinct in terms of scientific approach and technical skills required. However, most products are likely to involve a blend of these technologies.
For-profit investment in animal product alternatives has been increasing. According to reports by the Good Food Institute , in just 2021, plant-based meat, seafood, egg, and dairy companies raised $1.9 billion , cultivated meat companies raised $1.38 billion, and alternative protein fermentation companies raised $1.69 billion. In all three categories, investments in 2021 were much higher than in years prior.
Annika Lonkila & Minna Kaljonen (2021) Promises of meat and milk alternatives: An integrative literature review on emergent research themes, Agriculture and Human Values, vol. 38, pp. 625–639.
Cargill, Natalie & Keiran Harris (2018) How exactly clean meat is created & the advances needed to get it into every supermarket, according to food scientist Marie Gibbons, 80,000 Hours, April 10.
Huang, Amy (2020) Closing gaps in alternative protein science, EA Student Summit 2020, October 24.
He, Jiang et al. (2020) A review of research on plant‐based meat alternatives: Driving forces, history, manufacturing, and consumer attitudes, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, vol. 19, pp. 2639–2656.
The Good Food Institute (2022) 2021 State of the industry report: Plant-based meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy, The Good Food Institute (figure 5).
Linch, Zhang; Dullaghan, Neil (2021) Cultured meat: A comparison of techno-economic analyses
Dullaghan, Neil (2021) Cultured meat predictions were overly optimistic
Yip, Wen (2020) When can I eat meat again?