Alta. protein group closes its doors

An Alberta group dedicated to finding new products derived from plant proteins has failed to secure funding, prompting one advocate to respond that the province’s value-added capabilities will be damaged.

The provincial government isn’t renewing $250,000 in funding for the Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta. The moved will force it to shut down, said board chair Allison Ammeter.

“Our whole goal has been for these great products that Alberta raises to not just get sent away in rail cars to other countries where they can add value to them. We wanted to add value here at home, and see the jobs and the GDP (gross domestic product) … and all the spin-off benefits that come from that.”

Such economic development is particularly helpful for rural communities, said Ammeter, who farms near Sylvan Lake, Alta.

“A just-released Ernst and Young report estimated this to be a $20 billion annual opportunity for Canada in the next 15 years,” said a statement by the alliance.

Although much of the focus tends to go to products from peas and other pulses, the alliance had also sought to raise awareness about crops such as canola.

“The opportunity is extracting the human-grade protein out of the canola so that we’re not only marketing the oil, we can also be marketing the protein. With hemp, the opportunities in the fibre and in the seed are really fascinating … there’s just so many different opportunities.”

Alberta has largely been hampered by lack of investment and strategy, said Ammeter. “We really need to come out and say, ‘we’ve got this great opportunity.’ The government needs to say, ‘we’re completely behind you. We’ll do all we can to help.’ We need a real focus on it.”

The alliance helped attract the international Plant-Based Food Summit to Calgary and Saskatoon in 2019, marking the first time the event was held outside Europe, she said.

It also helped get funding for Protein Industries Canada, which is a federal plant protein initiative, a supercluster, aimed at accelerating growth in promising industries, she added.

The not-for-profit organization was formed three years ago.

The provincial funding largely paid for a chief executive officer and the alliance’s communications work, said Ammeter, who called the amount a pittance. The board consists of unpaid volunteers who don’t even take per diems, she said.

The alliance officially ended daily operations April 20. It is looking for a way to keep its website operating to allow people to access information, such as webinars, said Ammeter.

“Our real sad part of this is that we know how many opportunities there are, and we’d like to continue to help the industry in any way we can without being there.”

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