The Protein Challenge 2040: A Roadmap to the Future of Protein

From by Bonnie Averbuch
The Protein Challenge 2040: A Roadmap to the Future of Protein

Across the world, meat consumption is soaring. A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that “per capita meat consumption...has grown around three percent annually in developing and emerging economies (DEE) since the mid-1990s” and continued to grow about 0.4 percent in developed countries over the same period. Meat production is highly resource intensive—animal products, both meat and dairy, require more inputs and produce more greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based food sources, according to the U.N. Environmental Programme (UNEP).  

However, protein is an essential nutrient necessary for normal cell growth and repair. With the world’s population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the world will need to find alternative protein sources to meet our nutritional demands without overstressing the environment. The Protein Challenge 2040 seeks to tackle this difficult issue.

The Protein Challenge 2040 started to take shape in 2014 when Forum for the Future convened a consortium of organizations—including the WWF, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Firmenich, Hershey’s, Quorn, Target, Volac, and Waitrose—to discuss ways to meet current and future protein needs in a way that is healthy, affordable, and good for the planet. By working with organizations across the entire protein system, the Challenge aims to "balance supply and demand" and create a new system design that benefits people and the environment. This innovative forum is now in Phase I, which is expected to take approximately nine months, and plans to move on to Phase II in late Fall 2015.

Phase I started with research as well as interviews with experts. The research resulted in the development of a series of fact sheets across the major protein categories—including wild-caught fish, aquaculture, beef, poultry, dairy, plant-based, and more. This thorough understanding of different protein value chains was integral to the production of an initial map of the entire protein system, as well as identification of impacts and stakeholders. Next, using the scenario-planning and system map, the consortium developed "challenging yet plausible future scenarios" that were used to identify possible solutions. Finally, roadmapping will identify key actions that need to be taken for each solution, which can then be scaled up and developed into cross-sector “collaboration platforms.” Throughout the process, the consortium has hosted a series of multi-stakeholder workshops. These workshops have helped build on initial findings, ensure different points of view are incorporated, and co-create the solutions.

"I've never seen so much interest from such a range of people and parts of the system—it's been one of the most enlightening and rewarding aspects of the project. There is clearly a need to move on from the polarizing debate around animal versus plant-based diets, blaming production versus consumption, and operating in silos. Not surprisingly, we have found that different protein industries have more in common than they think—from waste to feed to constrained natural resources—and there is a huge opportunity to collaborate on solutions. We're excited to take those ideas and turn them into action," says Jessica Rosen, Senior Sustainability Advisor at Forum for the Future.

The Challenge is currently scoping out several collaboration concepts that emerged from the workshops to take forward in Phase II, including new/underutilized proteins from the sea, feed innovation, and scaling up plant-based proteins. To learn more or to find ways to get involved with the future phases of the project, contact Simon Billings at

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