18/07/2019 – Country Focus / Finland / Innovation / Agriculture

Finland – Towards self-sufficiency

A new report by Finland’s government-funded innovation unit VTT and VYR (the Finnish Cereal Committee) presents an action plan for using grains, grass, fisheries, insects and cellular agriculture more efficiently as sources of protein in the production of both food and feed, as the country strives to enhance its self-sufficiency in this area.

 

Raising the share of domestic production is becoming increasingly high on the agenda for countries the world over in pursuit of greater food security – not least as a result of the increasingly unstable market conditions attributable to climate change. This is particularly crucial in the case of proteins – the building blocks of the body. Within this context, a new VTT-VYR joint study suggests that Finland is in an excellent position to enhance its protein self-sufficiency while building a sustainable, carbon-neutral food chain.

 

Demand for domestic forage protein

 

The Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners’ (MTK) Secretary for Cereal and VYR’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, Max Schulman, said the EU has prioritised the replacement of forage soybean with protein sources produced in Europe. “Many operators have, in fact, already started to replace forage soybean with domestic sources of protein,” he advised. 

 

“A many-fold increase is expected in the use of forage based on domestic protein sources in the near future. However, this requires targeted breeding efforts for high quality cultivars, as well as allocating significantly larger areas for the cultivation of protein crops and increasing their yield,” he said.

 

Plant-based and alternative animal sources

 

The consumption of plant-based protein products in food in Finland has increased since protein self-sufficiency was previously studied in 2015. The growth is expected to continue, with consumers searching for alternatives to proteins from animal sources. However, successful growth requires co-operation and development throughout the supply chain, including improvement in the cultivars, contract farming and ingredient industry, the new study suggests.

 

“In addition to substantial research efforts, building a network and business models for operators are critical to enable the efficient utilisation of grass, insects and cellular agriculture in protein production,” pointed out VTT’s Research Team Leader Emilia Nordlund.

The fisheries industry could also play a key role in enhancing Finland’s protein self-sufficiency, but not without implementing significant measures related to maintaining the viability of fishing as a livelihood in both inland and coastal fishing communities.

 

Cellular agriculture and insect protein

 

The as yet undeveloped platforms of cellular agriculture and insect protein will both be considered, although there is a long way to go before going mainstream.

 

Ms Nordlund explains that one of VTT’s vision statements is that in 2035, cellular agriculture products are an established dietary nutrient source on a global scale. “Solar Foods presents a nice case for cellular agriculture development in Finland for food, but also other solutions – for example, pekilo single cell protein is actively developed for feed,” she notes. 

“For the animal protein production in cells (for example, egg and milk proteins), legislation is hindering market intake, but I believe the big global need to battle climate change and biodiversity loss will also push regulators to reconsider their decisions. Of course, safety needs to be proven by proper processes for all the novel foods, we cannot compromise with the safety issues,” she stresses.

 

While the insect protein space is also very active, Ms Nordland observes that we have yet to see major waves created in this area. “Insect start-ups have gathered e500 million in funding in the past five years – mainly in Europe – in order to scale up and build insect-rearing units. And when those processes mature, we should see activity in the market. Pet food and animal feed are the first targets, although the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has received novel food applications for food use for seven species,” she reveals. 

 

VYR’s working group on protein

 

To put the various measures into practice, VYR has set up a working group on protein, chaired by Emilia Nordlund. This working group mainly focuses on cereals, legumes, oilseeds and grass at this stage, with the aim of raising Finland’s status as a model country for protein self-sufficiency and sustainable food production, and as an exemplary operator in the EU.

Operators from all sections of the supply chain are invited to join the working group.

 

For further information, contact: Emilia Nordlund, VTT’s Research Team Leader at: emilia.nordlund@vtt.fi, tel. +358 40 504 2963

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