Wetenschap - 28 oktober 2010

Same cow, more beef

As meat and milk will be in very short supply in 2050, Wageningen UR and Massey University in New Zealand are going to 'multiply' meat and milk. They intend to mix real meat with high value vegetable proteins.

'It looks like meat, tastes like meat, and retains its texture when cooked, says Wouter Hendriks, professor of animal nutrition and the project's leader in Wageningen. 'In fact, you're getting twice as much meat from one unit. Our plan is to incorporate good vegetable proteins into meat so that it is just as nutritious.' These high value proteins will be derived from soya or other substances. Soya, however, is now used as animal feed.
Under this collaboration programme, named Proteos, researchers will also look into other - low value - protein sources for animals. 'In fact, high value proteins are shifted along the chain towards human consumption. Therefore, we have to find other vegetable protein sources suitable for making animal feed.'
This method of operating is also applied to milk. Hendriks: 'We want to do the same with milk. You can extract useful bioactive substances and mix these with other sources of protein. Currently, soya seems to be most suitable, but in time to come, algae proteins may even be better. You could then produce a new type of milk with the same taste, structure and feel as normal milk.' 
The agriculture minister of New Zealand, David Carter, was in Wageningen on 21 October to launch the Proteos project. Already since May 2009, both universities have voiced their intentions for intensive cooperation. This is now clearly expressed in their collaboration to increase meat and milk. 'Massey University is strong in protein metabolism and sensory characteristics of meat and milk. Our expertise lies more in the area of vegetable proteins', explains Hendriks. 'We will study the financial possibilities from the point of view of governments and the dairy, soya and animal feed industries. In New Zealand, a sum of 50 million euros has been pledged for research into milk proteins. In the coming months, we will look for more interested parties.' It is not known how much Wageningen UR will contribute to the project, except for a minor programme called 'future proteins' which is being planned. Hendriks expects to bring in five to ten PhD students to work within Proteos in the next few years.
What about the consumer?
Besides technological knowhow, economic and social sciences will also play major roles within Proteos. Hendriks: 'As technologies are being developed, we need to know what products consumers will buy. We will find out what these needs are and whether products will continue to be affordable.'