Researcher sees a vegan turn: farmers have to react


What Tesla is to the auto industry is vegan food for the food industry. A business ethicist at the University of Vechta says that – and advises farmers to adapt to the changes.

Vechta (dpa) – From the point of view of economic ethicist Nick Lin-Hi from the University of Vechta, the food and agriculture industry is facing a paradigm shift: vegan food will no longer be niche products in the next few years, but will seriously compete with milk, meat and eggs.

The farmers would have to adjust, said Lin-Hi of the German Press Agency. They still have time to take initiative.

Question: You like to compare the situation of the food industry with that of the car industry – why?

Lin-Hi: Because here too, new players are coming onto the market, which will quickly turn the industry upside down – that is the Tesla phenomenon. Until 2013, many people in the car industry smiled at this electric car manufacturer. But meanwhile we know: Tesla is the actor who made the market. Automakers are trying to make their electric offensive, but are lagging extremely behind in terms of time. In the food industry, it's vegan products that are likely to become a serious alternative to meat and milk in no time.

Question: But there are still niche offers for a minority.

Lin-Hi: We're in a perfect storm right now, which means that nutrition will fundamentally change. A harbinger is the hype about "Beyond Meat", the provider of vegan burgers from the United States. As a result, billions of dollars are now flowing into the development of alternative foods. That never happened in the form. Or take another US company, "Perfect Day", which offers vegan dairy products like ice cream. The product is pretty good. Alternative products have the potential to outperform conventional products in terms of taste, nutritional content and even price.

Question: And consumers want that too?

Lin-Hi: We have a "green slide" in society, people are starting to shop differently. Also, because the alternative products are no longer hidden in the farthest corner of the supermarket. Today, the vegan burger is right next to the classic pork sausage. And the climate debate will also play a role in the purchase decision in the supermarket, after all, the food industry accounts for about one third of the man-made climate emissions.

Question: What are the prospects for farmers who produce animal food?

Lin-Hi: Farmers need to rethink radically. We still have a window of opportunity in which the industry can contribute to change. But industrial agriculture will shrink, I am convinced. There will be no growth there. Whoever can, should focus on natural production and connect the whole thing with sustainability, transparency, and perhaps also with tourism. People want to see the happy cow in the pasture or the lucky pig. That is certainly not a solution for everyone.

Question: And those who do not come into this niche have to think of something completely different?

Lin-Hi: Correct! Farmers should think about their central asset, land. Currently, the land prices are highly attractive, you could sell. Or offer land as CO2 compensation areas and do something for the future of grandchildren. Farmers can also invest in new business areas organized by cooperatives – who says that the in vitro meat factory has to be in Israel or in the Netherlands? We still have some catching up to do in Germany.

PERSONAL INFORMATION: Nick Lin-Hi (39) graduated from high school in Hildesheim in 1999, studied business administration in Eichstatt-Ingolstadt, received his doctorate in 2008 from the Leipzig Business School and habilitated in 2015 at the University of Mannheim. Since August 2016, he is Professor of Economics and Ethics at the University of Vechta.

Website Prof. Nick Lin-Hi

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