Knowledge for better food systems

Animal product alternatives: An agenda for food tech justice

This paper argues that animal product alternatives (including both plant-based products and cellular agriculture) are likely to be implemented within the current “corporate food regime” and may not be compatible with a food sovereignty perspective. However, it suggests that using a “food tech justice” lens could guide animal product alternatives towards a role in a food system that considers health, equity and sustainability.

The paper outlines the arguments that are used in favour of and against animal product alternatives, including:

  • Plant- and cell-based alternatives could offer environmental benefits and contribute towards feeding the growing world population sustainably
  • Plant-based diets are associated with certain health benefits
  • Plant- and cell-based alternatives could alleviate animal suffering
  • Both supporters of industrial animal farming and supporters of holistic livestock management argue that their preferred system offers benefits, such as efficiency or carbon sequestration, while providing nutritionally dense animal products
  • Critics of the corporate food industry, including “anti-biotechnology, anti-processed food, and anti-capitalist activists”, question the highly-processed nature of some animal product alternatives and are wary of the involvement of venture capitalists and large corporations in the field.

The paper notes that current approaches to plant- and cell-based alternatives are oriented towards a market approach that emphasises convenience, price and taste and does not substantially challenge existing corporate structures. In contrast, a “food tech justice” approach could, for example, promote open access technology, work against the marginalisation of workers in the food supply chain, and support entrepreneurs from disadvantaged demographics.



As a response to the varied environmental, public health, and animal welfare challenges of contemporary animal food production, advocates of plant-based and cell-based animal food alternatives have championed those products as key to feeding the growing global population. This review offers an overview of key arguments in favor of and in opposition to animal product alternatives, and from there situates the debate within literature on food system change. It concludes that animal product alternatives are most likely to be incorporated as reforms within the corporate food regime and are generally incompatible with food sovereignty perspectives. Whether animal product alternatives could align with the food justice approach, however, is less clear. An agenda that operationalizes plant-based and cell-based animal product alternatives through a lens of “food tech justice” might offer a productive path forward for food system health, equity, and sustainability.



Broad, G.M., 2019. Plant-based and cell-based animal product alternatives: An assessment and agenda for food tech justice. Geoforum. In press, corrected proof.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource building block What is food security?

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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