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Frequently asked questions

What are plant-based protein alternatives?

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Plant-based protein alternatives are sources of protein that are not derived from animals. These include plant-based foods such as soya, pulses (e.g. beans, lentils, chickpeas), nuts, seeds and grains such as quinoa.

How is cultured meat produced?

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Cultured meat is based on stem cells from an animal, which are obtained from muscle tissue. The cell cultures are propagated in a nutrient medium in a container (bioreactor). During cultivation, the cells pass through various stages and muscles develop. The cells grow together into a larger mass via a carrier scaffold, usually made of animal collagen. This results in very thin layers of meat. The mass resembles minced meat. Around 20,000 of these muscle cells are needed for one burger. Fat cells are also cultivated in a similar way, which, together with the muscle tissue, should result in a product that comes as close as possible to the flavour of real meat.
In the Republic of Singapore, the world's first food product based on cell cultures was approved in December 2020. It is a chicken nugget that also contains vegetable proteins. The competent authorities in the USA are also currently examining an application for approval for cell-based chicken meat. Here, the first stage of the multi-stage authorisation procedure was approved. However, authorisation by the US Department of Agriculture is still pending.

Are cultured foods, i.e. foods produced from stem cells, artificial/synthetic?

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Cultured meat from stem cells, for example, is a new type of food that is subject to a strict approval process, but it is also of natural origin. Cultured meat begins with the painless removal of cells from an animal, which are then developed into a stem cell line. The cells can then be differentiated in the bioreactor and mature into muscle, fat or other cell types until they become a food product. Here, a process that occurs in animals is imitated in a biotechnological process.
Other examples of this in the food sector are vitamins or rennet ferment from precision fermentation. These have already been approved in Switzerland and have undergone an approval process. In precision fermentation, microorganisms are modified in such a way that they produce a standardized rennet ferment for cheese production or vitamins. The end products are GMO-free and no longer come from calves' stomachs as they used to. Yoghurt and beer are also produced in large steel fermenters in Switzerland using microorganisms and additives that have been further selected and improved over centuries.

Which plant-based foods are particularly rich in protein?

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Some of the most protein-rich plant foods are soya products (such as tofu and tempeh), pulses (such as lentils and chickpeas), nuts and seeds (such as almonds, chia seeds and hemp seeds) and some grains (such as quinoa and amaranth).

Are alternative proteins vegan?

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Not all alternative proteins are vegan. Vegetable proteins are of course vegan. And microalgae are also suitable for a vegan nutrition - although they are considered eukaryotic organisms from a biological point of view. Both cultured meat and insects are not vegan by definition. You have to decide for yourself whether the two alternative protein sources still fit into your nutrition. If you have opted for veganism so that no animals have to die, you can consume cultured meat without hesitation. Do you want to contribute to climate protection? Then both cultured meat and insects are a real alternative.

How can I recognise purely plant-based or vegetarian foods?

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Many foods are vegan or vegetarian and are labelled as such. If consumers cannot be misled, labelling as vegan or vegetarian may not be necessary. In those cases, however, labelling as "vegan" or "vegetarian" is mandatory if there is otherwise a risk of consumers being misled about the actual nature of the food. As always, it helps to look at the name of the food and the list of ingredients.

Are plant-based protein alternatives more environmentally friendly?

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In general, plant-based protein alternatives have a lower environmental footprint compared to animal proteins, especially when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and land use.

Are plant-based proteins healthy?

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Yes, plant-based proteins are generally healthy and can be part of a balanced nutrition. They are often low in fat, cholesterol-free and rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Are there any risks or side effects with a purely plant-based nutrition?

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A well-planned plant-based nutrition can provide all the necessary nutrients. It is important to ensure a balanced nutrition to avoid deficiencies. Some people may also have specific food intolerances that need to be taken into account.

Can children and pregnant women eat exclusively plant-based protein?

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A purely plant-based nutrition may be possible for children and pregnant women, but requires careful planning to ensure that all the necessary nutrients are consumed. It is recommended to seek professional nutritional advice.

Why are plant-based alternative drinks to milk not called milk, but drink and plant-based alternatives to cheese not cheese?

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Plant-based products may not be marketed under dairy names such as "milk", "cream", "butter", "cheese", "whey", "buttermilk" or "yoghurt". These designations are subject to absolute labelling protection and are reserved solely for products of animal origin - specifically: the udder secretion of mammals. Exceptions are traditional products or those for which the name describes a characteristic property - such as coconut milk, cocoa butter, peanut butter or meat loaf. This was clarified by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in its ruling of 14 June 2017 - C-422/16 (Regulation (EU) No. 1308/2013, Part III, No. 1-3).

What challenges are there to make alternative proteins fit for the future?

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In addition to regulatory challenges, as in the case of cultured meat, the future viability of alternative proteins is currently determined by two key issues: acceptance and price.

Alternative proteins are now more expensive than "conventional" proteins. Why is this the case and will it change?

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Alternative proteins are still at least slightly more expensive than meat. This is partly because the animal industry is subsidised. At the same time, the more people consume alternative proteins, the more affordable they become.

How does Switzerland compare internationally?

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Switzerland has a long tradition as an agricultural and food producer and therefore has a strong ecosystem for the development of alternative protein products. Many of our companies are leaders in this field and can position themselves successfully in the market if the framework conditions are favourable enough.

Recommended sources on the topic of alternative proteins and more



Food Hack

Verband für Alternative Proteinquellen in Deutschland