Theme Protein diversification

ILVO supports protein diversification on the condition that it contributes to a balanced, tasty, healthy and safe diet for a growing world population - within a sustainable and economically profitable framework. The term ‘protein diversification’ refers to an adapted diet in which animal proteins are alternated with vegetable and other protein sources. This is not only useful from a nutritional point of view, it also offers prospects on an economic, ecological and social level. Protein sources for animal feed also deserve attention. We invest in expertise and infrastructure to help all actors in the agri-food chain on their way in this growing market.

Protein diversification starts in the field

Today, Flanders and Europe are heavily dependent on the import of vegetable proteins, especially soy from overseas. However, local production of legumes, such as soybean, chickpea, dry pea and bean can offer interesting opportunities for Flemish farmers. This allows them to broaden their crop rotation, which contributes to greater crop diversity, better risk spreading, and interruption of the growth cycles of pests and diseases. Legumes also require little fertilization because they live in symbiosis with soil bacteria that take nitrogen from the air. By-products generated by increased production and processing of legumes also create new opportunities. However, certain issues are impeding the broad rollout of legume cultivation in Flanders. That is why ILVO conducts research into suitable cultivation techniques, adapted varieties, and the development of local chains. We also have a lot of expertise on stabilizing, processing and valorizing residual flows and will thoroughly investigate their potential for legumes.

What about animal protein?

A shift in our diet towards more diverse and plantbased proteins obviously has implications for animal production. Animal products can have a place within a varied and balanced diet. But which place is that? To answer that, a nuanced social debate is needed where experts with different backgrounds can have their say. In the trend towards fewer animal proteins, ILVO takes the role of observer and facilitator. We assist all actors involved with scientific knowledge and offer them access to our research infrastructure.

More local protein in animal feed

ILVO studies ways to improve the protein quality in Flemish forage crops, such as grasses, clovers and alfalfa, as well as how to diversify the protein sources in the ration. By incorporating more legumes and residual flows from the food and biofuel industry in animal feed, the protein quality of the feed improves and we can better valorize locally produced proteins. The effects of this on welfare, (feeding) behavior, growth and even the emissions of the animals must be closely monitored and adjusted based on science.

New protein sources

In addition to the traditional animal and vegetable protein sources, we are discovering the potential of ‘new’ protein-rich raw materials and products, such as insects, seaweeds and micro-organisms. ILVO investigates whether and how these raw materials and their residual flows can be optimally utilized in the agri-food chain: as an alternative source of protein with an interesting fatty acid composition, for methane reduction, as a flavor enhancer, as a colorant, or other things? The potential is clear but more research is needed. We look at the potential with an open mind, taking into account taste preferences, cultural aspects, food safety and allergens.

Not simply interchangeable

Proteins from plant products and from insects, seaweed and other (micro-)organisms can be just as much a part of a balanced diet as animal proteins. An important note here is that each protein has different nutritional and functional properties. You cannot simply replace a traditional animal component with another component in order to obtain an end product that is just as tasty, qualitative and nutritional. The growing range of protein-rich raw materials therefore poses new challenges for the primary sectors, the food industry and research.

Contact an expert

Geert Van Royen

Geert Van Royen

Meat and other protein expert


See also