Our current global protein supply chain is flawed. The EU imports 70% of its protein needs, leaving it geopolitically vulnerable for an essential dietary component. Moreover, we import more than 50% from South America, where rainforests and other ecologically valuable habitats are being destroyed to produce soybeans. The carbon footprint of these soybeans is doubled by shipping across the globe. Next, we inefficiently utilise these valuable proteins by using them primarily as animal feed. The massive import of protein (and hence nitrogen) also results in excess nitrogen levels in the soils in regions with high concentrations of meat production. Most of these negatives can be avoided by growing more protein crops locally and using such local protein sources to drive a protein shift towards a more plant-based diet. This shift is urgently needed and endorsed by EU policies to future-proof the protein supply and consumption in Europe.

If 10% of Europe’s arable land were dedicated to growing protein crops, the continent could achieve complete independence from imports, contributing to a more sustainable future. Protein crops also contribute positively to the environment due to their natural soil fertilisation capabilities, eliminating the need for environmentally harmful nitrogen fertilisation. However, existing varieties of soybeans are not well suited to thrive in our local soil and climate conditions, as soybeans are typically grown in more southern and tropical regions. Inspired by the mission to harvest the full potential of sustainable plant proteins for Europe, Protealis has developed superior proprietary seeds and seed technologies that enable soybeans to be grown in northern Europe. Premium-quality soybean varieties also empower local European farmers to offer sustainable sourcing options for meat and dairy alternatives, as well as animal nutrition.

Protealis introduced the Hermes and Artemis soybean seed varieties in 2021, immediately topping the charts in Belgium and boosting the average protein yield/ha by 15% compared to competitors. These varieties have been developed to grow very well in the northern European regions. Additionally, Protealis is working on optimising the cultivation of other leguminous crops, starting with yellow peas, a rising protein source for plant-based foods. Being at the forefront of sustainable agriculture, Protealis uses a unique approach combining seed breeding with highly innovative technologies that accelerate the introduction of new, locally adopted plant protein crops to the market.

These technologies include drone imaging techniques for automated field data collection to allow maximal genetic gain per breeding cycle or speed breeding techniques that enable farmers to shorten the breeding cycle by several years. Other technology programs include AI in combination with genetic diagnostics to predict plant performance from DNA fingerprints. Furthermore, Protealis is developing integrated seed solutions consisting of all-in-one seeds that are coated with proprietary, yield-enhancing soil bacteria. Protealis started as a spin-off of the VIB (Flemish Biotech Institute) and ILVO (Institute of Agricultural, Fisheries and Food Research) in April 2021. Today, Protealis is a commercial-stage company with two adapted soybean varieties on the market and is located in the biotechnology cluster in Ghent, Belgium.