Meat giant Tyson cultivates 'sustainable protein' coalition

Memphis Meats/YouTube
Fried "chicken" from Memphis Meats

Tyson Foods, the world's second-largest meat processor, is convening a new Coalition for Sustainable Protein in a bid to collaborate with the rest of the protein industry so as to sustainably increase global protein supply.

Announcing the move at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Tyson said the coalition would "unite stakeholders across the food and agriculture sector to identify and implement new and creative solutions to sustainably feed the world's growing population."

In particular, it will consider how to reduce food waste, increase access to protein and safeguard ecosystems. The first meeting took place at the Swiss resort last week, it added.

"As one of the world's largest food companies, we want to help ensure the responsible production of affordable, nutritious food for generations to come," said Noel White, chief executive officer of Tyson. "We're introducing this coalition because we know that we cannot achieve this alone. Collective commitment and immediate action are needed to deliver the greatest impact on the future of sustainable food production." 

Tyson did not give details of which companies and organizations would be part of the coalition, confirming only that it would include representatives of "all forms of protein," as well as experts from academia, non-governmental organizations and financial institutions.

The move is the latest sign the meat industry is feeling the pressure as growing numbers of consumers embrace plant-based food options, often for sustainability reasons, and agricultural supply chains face mounting climate impacts. Animal agriculture is responsible for around 14 percent of global emissions, due largely to the deforestation of land cleared for raising cattle and methane emissions from cows.

In developed countries, consumers concerned about the climate impact of their diet are eating less meat, often switching to plant-based substitutes that are more closely resembling meat than ever before. Tyson itself has said in the past it wants to "fully compete" in the alternative meat space, which includes meat-mimicking products from companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers.

Part of the company's strategy is to invest in food tech startups. Also last week, Tyson was named as a backer in the latest round for Memphis Meats, the U.S.-based startup growing cultured meat from cells. Memphis Meats said it had raised $161 million in its Series B funding, with backers including Japan's SoftBank Group. Richard Branson and Bill Gates already have invested in the startup in a previous round; Tyson was also a participant in the company's early funding rounds.

Memphis Meats said it would use the cash to build a pilot production plant, with the aim of launching its cultured meat, poultry and seafood products on the commercial market.

"Memphis Meats is revolutionizing how meat is brought to every table around the world," said Uma Valeti, co-founder and CEO. "We are providing compelling and delicious choices by producing real meat from animal cells, its natural building blocks. Cell-based meat is poised to dramatically expand humanity's capacity to feed a growing global population while preserving our culinary traditions and protecting our planet."

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