A shorter ingredient list does not mean a product is healthier and better. Additives can improve quality. Consumers should also know that animals are often injected with chemicals in industrial farming, experts said.
Impossible Foods response
Plant-based protein competitor Lightlife’s campaign against Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat was “disingenuous”, said Impossible. Image: Impossible Foods

Alternative proteins rely on enhancements because they are trying to mimic meat, said Dr Dalal Al Ghawas, programme director at Big Idea Ventures, an alternative protein venture capital and accelerator firm. Terms like GMO and additives may sound harsh and unappealing to the average consumer, but she said there is no scientific evidence to date that a genetically modified product will lead to adverse health effects, just as there is no conclusive evidence that people who consume organic products have significantly less risk of developing chronic disease.

From a food technologist’s perspective, we know that if there’re fewer additives, then there is going to be also compromised quality and shelf life stability.

Dr Dalal Al Ghawas, programme director, Big Idea Ventures

There are many types of additives and they should not all be lumped together negatively, said Al Ghawas, who has a PhD in food science and food biotechnology.

With the majority of people living in cities and farming done outside of cities, food needs to be processed to extend their shelf life and to give products the right textures and properties, she said. “From a food technologist’s perspective, we know that if there’re fewer additives, then there is going to be also compromised quality and shelf life stability.”

What Impossible has done with heme, is to utilise something readily available in nature and expand it into a food category, she added.

While caution and scepticism of new products is good, plant-based companies also need to ensure they effectively communicate what they’re producing, and make the information very relatable for wary consumers, Al Ghawas said.

Both she and Professor William Chen, the Michael Fam Chair Professor in Food Science and Technology at Nanyang Technological University, believe that Lightlife’s campaign will have little impact on consumer demand for plant-based protein, as well as for Impossible’s and Beyond’s burgers.

There is now more awareness of zoonotic disease outbreaks, and the volatility of meat prices as a result of diseases such as African swine fever and Covid-19 will mean  more people seeking out alternative proteins, said Al Ghawas.

Chen believes there is a need for synergy among different plant-based players to widen the choices available for consumers, perhaps through different products that target different nutrition requirements.

Said Wang: “What we need now are solutions for our current and future problems, not spats like this.”

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