Ryan Xue of CPBFA and Jennifer Lee of AFP

Heralding a New Age of Protein Innovation

The joint establishing of the AgFood Future (AGF) initiative by the China Plant Based Foods Alliance (CPBFA) and the U.S.-China Agriculture and Food Partnership (AFP) is certain to ring in a new age of robust cooperation between China and overseas protein stakeholders. 

AFP’s secretary-general Jennifer Lee says the group brings together both traditional and alternative protein start-ups, raw material suppliers, food processors and other stakeholders in China and overseas. 

“We can look at best practices and what is available worldwide and immediately begin to see where there might be synergies in between markets. There are a lot of leading organizations [in different countries], and we really wish to bring them all together so that we can advance this industry and ultimately bring solutions.”

The launch of the group in itself is a good example of China-overseas collaboration, with CPBFA being the only non-governmental organization in China dedicated to advancing the plant-based protein industry and AFP a public-private platform for bilateral food and agricultural cooperation between China and other nations with governmental support.

CPBFA’s secretary-general Ryan Xue says AgFood Future enjoys many advantages as both the AFP and CPBFA possess abundant resources from the private and public sectors. 

“CPBFA has 250 members as of 2021, with around 30% of them being overseas enterprises and the remainder from the mainland. We have done a lot of work with mainland regulatory institutions including the Ministry of Agriculture and the State Administration for Market Regulation.”

“AFP has dozens of members, most of them multinationals. It serves as a bridge between the private industry and the United States Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration.”

Among AgFood Future’s projects to strengthen China-overseas cooperation is a set of guidelines containing the alternative protein industry’s operational standards and best practices.

Xue says the guidelines, to be launched this year, can help smoothen the entry by overseas businesses into the China market and facilitate local exporters’ expansion overseas.

“Players involved in the whole production chain can benefit from it. The guidelines will help existing and new players in the protein industry boost the industry’s self-discipline and consumers’ rights and make the job of regulators easier.”

A Bridge to the Future

For Chinese start-ups on the lookout for overseas venture capital funds, Xue says the group will act as a bridge between entrepreneurs and financiers. 

“Big overseas investments in mainland start-ups, particularly in the alternative protein industry have yet to materialize. Southeast Asian start-ups like those from Singapore are easier to attract global capital.”

Xue attributed overseas investors’ lukewarm interest in Chinese start-ups to the wrong path taken by the industry over the past few years.  

“The industry has been trying to find a Chinese equivalent of [U.S. star player] Beyond Meat in China, instead of figuring out the unique challenges [of food consumption in China] and how to solve them.”

“While there was a dearth of new projects at the end of 2019 and 2020, there will be many more new ventures coming out this year, and more investments injected into the alternative protein field.”

A Legal Framework

Lee from AFP says another major goal of the initiative is to create a regulatory and certification framework after taking into account international experiences and characteristics unique to the China market. 

“There’s definitely an existing framework [in China] for the existing market. For the 2.0 framework, we would like to figure out where the boundaries are in terms of innovation.”

Xue says while the current regulatory and approval mechanisms for the industry are comprehensive, the enhanced framework will consider new aspects like safety of stem cells and new raw materials.

Lee adds that AgFood Future will bring in international regulatory exchanges and provide a platform for dialogue with regulators. 

“Because alternative protein is such a nascent industry, there are not a lot of regulations that have really been implemented in other markets. [However,] all important [international] case studies will be very helpful for China while they’re working out a 2.0 framework.” 

“Working with Chinese government partners, we will explore what is being considered around the world from the policy and science perspectives.”

With their strong international networks and track record in China, Lee says AFP’s cooperation with CPBFA will help bring in a potential revolution of the entire agriculture industry and food value chain.

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