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US Plant Act poised to accelerate alternative protein and propel the burgeoning industry

31 Jul 2023 --- The Peas, Legumes and Nuts Today (PLANT) Act, a legislative move that would provide more opportunities for farmers to produce ingredients used in plant-based foods and help grow the sector, has been introduced in US Congress. The bill would also enhance the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) efforts to promote the export of plant-based foods, foster innovation and help the US reaffirm its role as a farming powerhouse.

Furthermore, the US Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine underscores that the new bill would increase consumer choice of people already living a plant-based lifestyle and those interested in adding variety to their diets.

According to the organization, the benefits of replacing animal protein with plant proteins include reducing heart disease and cancer rates, which would generate billions in healthcare savings.

Moreover, it would help the US reach its greenhouse gas emission reduction objectives.

Supporting farmers
The new bill is set to create opportunities for farmers and food companies, expanding food producers’ access to new markets. The legislation wants to “maintain US leadership in plant-based food production,” according to James McGovern, the US congressman who introduced the bill.

“The PLANT Act will help us win the future of food,” he highlights.

“By putting farmers and their communities front and center as we grow the greatest plant-based sector in the world, we can create countless good jobs while showing the world what makes American agriculture so strong. Now is the time to embrace the enormous potential that plant-based foods have to strengthen our economy and our food system.”

Legislators supporting the bill underscore that the USDA has supported meat and dairy farmers with US$50 billion since 1995. Highlighting that more funds are needed in the vegetables and nuts sector for the country to keep being a plant-based leader.

Competing with the EU
While McGovern says that the US is the leader in plant-based food production, with over 55,000 people employed in the sector and generating US$4.5 billion in annual revenue, he also notes that foreign investment “may eclipse US production.”

Since 2020, Canada, France, Denmark, Australia and Sweden have all invested more in this sector than the US, he highlights. 

This month, a report by the Good Food Institute (GFI) revealed that European governments are financially committed to sustainable food systems, pledging €477 million (US$523.68 million) thus far. 

The PLANT Act will also help US farmers become eligible for USDA producer programs and make targeted R&D investments to foster innovation.

“We are thrilled to endorse the PLANT Act as a critical step in ensuring strong federal support for plant-based foods,” says Nicole Negowetti, VP of food systems and policy at the Plant Based Foods Association (PFBS).  

“This legislation will create more opportunities for farmers, provide essential support to food manufacturers–like many of our PBFA members–and bolster efforts to promote the growth and export of plant-based foods. By empowering a diverse range of stakeholders, from farmers to manufacturers and brands, we can accelerate the advancement of plant-based foods and contribute to a healthier, sustainable and inclusive food future.”

The PFBS also underscores the new program’s potential to strengthen rural development initiatives and technology transfer for rural areas, the creation of a new plant-based protein research program and the support via direct technical assistance and grants of regional plant-based food production through a Plant Protein Innovation Initiative.

Promoting health and environment
The life expectancy in the US at birth is at its lowest level since 1996, at 76.1 years, according to 2022 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, far behind other developed nations.

Plant-based foods could help improve health outcomes, as research highlighted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine shows that plant-based foods reduce the risk of early death “from any cause.”

“Helping farmers to provide Americans more protein from beans and other plant sources instead of animal products could save countless lives from heart disease and other diet-related conditions,” says Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The committee also highlights that vegan diets result in 75% less greenhouse gas emissions and land use, 66% less biodiversity loss and 54% less water use. Substituting beef with legumes could account for 46% to 74% of all US greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, technical fixes to reduce greenhouse and methane emissions from the animal agriculture industry are not long-term solutions to climate change, ProVeg International told Food Ingredients First. Instead, the organization flags that reducing animal stocks and meat consumption are more viable actions.

Nonetheless, removing all meat from diets might not lead to the best health outcomes. While meat constitutes a small part of global food mass and energy at under 10%, it delivers most of the worldwide vitamin B12 intake, and some doctors highlight that removing meat and dairy from diets would harm human health.

By Marc Cervera

Source: Food Ingredients First