Protein Matters

A research project that looks into the geographies of food industries and takes a specific interest in understanding how these link to the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases. On this blog, we throw spotlights on our ongoing research activities. We invite you to check out our first series Meat Cultures in which Patrick Weir wages a journey into fictional futures, represented in novels and films, and outlines how other worlds envision protein production and consumption. Mariana Hase Ueta reflects on the annual Veganuary and its effect on creating broader public awareness for the environmental impact of food industries.

Protein Matters is funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung.

Zoonoses – diseases that originate from animals and spread to human populations, such as rabies, SARS, or borreliosis – considered to be a health problem (Corona is just the youngest candidate). However, they have also become a complex governmental and security issue. Travel restrictions, increased state surveillance and intensified policing activities are proof of this move to “securitize” zoonotic threats within today’s globalized world.

Zoonoses are a matter of security in other ways: Throughout human history, societies needed to organize sufficient and healthy nutrition for their members, and governments have thus been responsible for guaranteeing food security, e.g. by introducing quality standards or regulating prices. With increasing population density, food security does not only mean to provide enough food for everyone. The problem lies in the close proximity of humans and livestock in parts of the meat production chains, which increases the risk of spreading diseases across the globe.

The supply of protein matters with growing mass production of meat as one important driver of nutritional health, yet also of novel viruses, ever changing bacteria and of climate change. Given an increasing public awareness of alternative and economically feasible supply chains based on non-animal dietary protein, the implementation of regulatory frameworks for alternative proteins is a key strategy to reduce risks of food-production-borne pathogens.

The USA and the EU represent geopolitical powers with influential positions regarding the scalability of industrialized animal agriculture and dietary protein production that have spread around the globe. Therefore, we are specifically interested in the governmental strategies that are deployed in the EU and the USA to legitimize and create public support for containment policies and regulations. Based on an analysis of past and current outbreaks of zoonotic epidemics and their impacts on protein supply chains in the EU and the USA, we explore the communication strategies, industrial innovations, private sector cooperations and lobbies that drive public awareness for the link between agroindustry and zoonoses.

The PM consortium looks to partner with research institutions, individual researchers, and other parties interested in collaborating. Inquiries for collaboration or questions should be sent to Dr. Frank Müller: