A tale of two proteins

Are plant and animal proteins competitors or complementary under the province’s new ‘protein strategy’?


By Alexis Stockford, Opinion, Manitoba Co-operator

April 11, 2019


The provincial government wants Manitoba to be a protein province, but the jury is still out on where that investment will fall between livestock and plant-based protein.


The province has said both plant and animal protein sectors will benefit from the government’s Manitoba Protein Advantage Strategy.


“We’re positioned so well, probably better than any other province,” Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said, pointing to sharp growth in the sheep and chicken sectors and developing businesses such as canola crushers and incoming pea protein plant Roquette, set to open in Portage next year.


The province also hopes to draw opportunities through groups like Protein Industries Canada, although the federal supercluster prioritizes plant protein over animal.


“I’m bullish,” Eichler said. “We’ve had those conversations and I’m going to stay my course… I’m not going to walk away from our animal protein at all. In fact, we’re going to see increases in the animal protein as we go forward.”


A Feb. 1 provincial policy paper outlines an added $500 million in primary livestock production and processing investment by 2025 and 35 per cent more animal protein produced compared to 2017.


More TLC needed?


Plant protein in general, however, needs more development than established livestock markets, Robin Young, chief operating officer with Manitoba’s Food Development Centre, said.


There are still technical questions around extraction, she said, as well as discussion on the functionality of that protein once it is extracted.


“How will you evaluate what the product will do?” she said. “It’s not enough to get the protein out of a pea.”


The next questions revolve around that product’s functionality and fit into the existing food production system, she said.


On top of that, she added, there are still regulatory hurdles with Health Canada and how any new protein product will be marked on labels.


There is also the question of co-products. New protein products will mean new byproducts left over from extraction. The Food Development Centre is among those working to develop those into new products and new markets, Young said.


Eichler says the province will have to focus more on plant protein to address those gaps.


“We just haven’t been there in the past,” he said. “But when you have companies like Roquette and companies like Simplot that have seen the opportunities — and there’s many spinoffs that come from both of them — how do we multiply that in a way that’s going to help us get even more products out of it?”


In 2018, Simplot also announced a $460-million expansion to its Portage la Prairie plant, expected to be complete by this fall.


Growers’ view ...


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