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State lawmakers consider seed money for growing plant-based food industry

Plants or meat?

The question is becoming more prevalent for consumers at grocery stores and could become more of a question for Minnesota lawmakers.

The plant-based food industry has grown in recent years. Minnesota’s plentiful agriculture industry has taken part and could step forward in its commitment.

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud), HF2583, would appropriate $2 million in fiscal year 2023 to the Department of Agriculture to create a pilot plant-based food research and development grant program. It was laid over Monday by the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee.

The program has bipartisan support with Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point) sponsoring the companion, SF2483, which awaits action by the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee.

“We know that consumers are asking for this,” Wolgamott said. “By putting forth this pilot grant program, we’re going to make sure that it’s Minnesota and Minnesota companies, Minnesota jobs are being able to take advantage of this growing market demand rather than other states or other countries.”

The Agriculture Department would award competitive grants for plant protein processing innovations, plant-based food product formulation and other activities that accelerate the growth of commercialization of industry-advancing, plant-based food products.

According to Wolgamott, the plant-based foods market is a $7 billion industry in the United States. He said the industry is growing at twice the rate of overall food sales and has resulted in a creation of 55,000 jobs.

“Consumers are demanding plant-based foods to meet a variety of needs, whether dietary reasons or simply wanting more options for their families,” said Lauren Stone, acting policy coordinator for the Good Food Institute.

Noting the industry’s $7 billion total, Rep. John Burkel (R-Badger) wondered if Minnesota’s investment would make much impact.

“I think this bill is five years too late,” Burkel said. “I think the industry has moved well beyond the money you’re talking about.”

To be considered, grantees would be required to match the grant award with non-state funds. Stone said there would be no shortage of entities willing to participate.

Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said there are current grants for similar research, but Wolgamott’s bill would enhance and specify the grants.

Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin) offered concern of the impact on Minnesota’s meat producers.

“This proposal would look to significantly tip the scales in favor of one particular element of our food production industry in Minnesota,” Lueck said. “I would much prefer to see this on a strictly competitive basis and not single out any special group. The market will take care of itself. I’ve got some serious, serious reservations with the approach of this bill.”

Rep. Ginny Klevorn (DFL-Plymouth) believes Minnesota should consider all potential agricultural systems.

“I think it’s important to understand that diversity, land diversity, product diversity, of choice, all of these things are really good,” Klevorn said. “There’s space for us to support the existing traditional agricultural system and there’s space to support new and emerging technologies.”

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