Ghent start-up wants to develop local soy for 'speed-breeding'

Start-up Protealis wants to develop local soy quickly and is therefore investing in high-tech infrastructure for 'speed-breeding' - a first for the breeding of leguminous crops in Europe. This way, the company from Ghent (East Flanders province) wants to discover and offer profitable varieties to European farmers. Until today, soy is mass-imported from South America, with dire consequences for local rainforests and soil quality.

Long-term research is needed to discover a soy variety which can thrive in Belgium, but with so-called speed-breeding, new varieties can be developed more quickly. Protealis focuses primarily on soy and yellow peas. In speed-breeding, researchers can set ideal conditions in terms of light, temperature and humidity, among other things.

These techniques allow plants to grow at record speeds. The process also eliminates dependence on seasons or weather conditions, allowing development year-round. The entire breeding and development procedure is thereby shortened by three years.

GMO-free soy (free of genetically modified organisms) is mandatory for food, and this type of soy is not widely grown outside Europe.

Europe is only 30 per cent self-sufficient in its protein supply. For the primary source of protein, soy, the continent is 95 per cent dependent on imports. Demand for protein crops is, therefore, on the rise in Europe. Boston Consulting Group forecasts that the consumer market for meat and dairy alternatives will grow by 14 per cent annually by 2035. This sector is experiencing increasing difficulties in sourcing from global markets. Indeed, GMO-free (free of genetically modified organisms) soy is mandatory for food, and this type of soy is not widely grown outside Europe.

In addition, legumes such as soy remain essential for animal breeding. Although the European Commission predicts European meat consumption will stagnate over the next decade, we continue to export meat en masse. The shift to more poultry, which requires a relatively higher proportion of protein in animal feed, is driving up the demand for soy even further.



#FlandersNewsService | © PHOTO Juan MABROMATA / AFP

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