Quorn CEO calls for partners to develop sustainable solutions

By Jerome Smail

- Last updated on GMT

Marco Bertacca, Quorn Foods CEO
Marco Bertacca, Quorn Foods CEO

Related tags vegan Ingredients & nutrition

The alternative protein industry must work together to tackle environmental destruction, Quorn Foods CEO Marco Bertacca has told the Future Food-Tech Summit.

Bertacca said there was an ‘urgent need’ for the adoption of alternative protein sources on a ‘huge scale’ and called for a coordinated approach to develop sustainable solutions and reduce damage to the environment.

The Quorn CEO added there was a ‘huge and important opportunity for new partnerships and collaboration’ to accelerate learning and innovation.

“As much as I would love for it to be possible, Quorn alone cannot feed the world. It is going to take dozens, if not hundreds of companies like ours to succeed if we are going to make enough healthy protein to reduce our planet’s damaging reliance on animal protein,”​ Bertacca told the summit.

“I am happy for others to learn from our 50 years of experience, and I know that with so many new minds now focused on fermenting protein biomass, there will be many things we can learn from others,”​ he added.

Food revolution

Bertacca said the development of solutions to produce protein from waste would have the potential to ‘revolutionise’ the food system.

The Quorn CEO cited research by King’s College London that estimates arable farming produces around eight billion tonnes of carbohydrate waste every year.

“If we could find a way to ferment that carbohydrate and make mycoprotein, we would produce the same amount of protein that we’d get from five billion cows,”​ Bertacca said.

“The numbers are mind-blowing – that’s three times more cows than there are on the planet now. So even if we could achieve a fraction of this, it would be a game-changer in reducing the carbon footprint created by food production.”

Scientific exploration

Quorn has set itself the target to become a net positive business by 2030 and, in that year, provide eight billion servings of Quorn. As part of its mission, the company has carried out some initial exploration in converting waste into protein.

Quorn already converts carbohydrate into protein to make mycoprotein. However, the carbohydrate used in the current process is glucose from wheat, and the conversion is done via a specific fermentation process of a specific microbe, Fusarium venenatum​.

Quorn’s theory is to convert lignocellulose, available in abundance as agricultural waste, into protein. However, lignocellulose is composed of carbohydrate polymers, so a new process will be required. The cellulose part of lignocellulose can be converted to fermentable sugars but getting at these sugars is a ‘complex process’, according to the company.

Bertacca told the summit: “If some of you are already working on something similar – fantastic. Please get in touch, and let’s work together. And if anyone would like to get involved in trying to make this idea a reality, please contact me, I would be delighted to talk.

“It is only through us all succeeding that we can change the world.”

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1 comment

Waste Not, Want Not

Posted by Pete Granger,

Quorn's proposal is to make protein from carbohydrate 'waste'. Arguably, much of the quoted 'waste' is a low value by-product of enterprises centered around, and economically reliant upon farmed animals. Which are removed from the equation when substituting plant protein for animal protein. Most farms cannot survive on the production of low value 'waste', particularly if unsubsidized by a primary product. So, where is the 'waste' to come from? To be sure it wont be a by-product if Quorn succeeds in its objectives. More likely, it will be dry-land plant crops just as damaging to the environment as animal farming. Not to mention the capital-intensive, labor-intensive processing of this plant material. Moreover, it could threaten a myriad of regional towns dependent on farming higher-rainfall pasture lands . We cannot stop progress, but we also need to be a little cautious about what we wish for.

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