KUALA LUMPUR - A Malaysian food start-up that has been riding a wave of publicity as it prepares to launch a plant-based alternative to pork has categorically denied it will target the Muslim market.
Phuture Meat found itself at the centre of a halal debate last month, following the publication of an article in Silicon Valley website TechCrunch about the start-up that referred to Phuture’s launch product as “halal”.
“The foodstuff is halal, a key feature for markets like Malaysia and Singapore,” the report said.
This led to follow-up pieces on news sites and blogs in Malaysia and farther afield, many of which highlighted the plant-based pork alternative’s halal credentials. This in turn has prompted a “mixed” reaction from Muslims, according to Phuture’s co-founder, Jack Yap.
“It’s something the media has just taken up,” Yap told Salaam Gateway on a call from Hong Kong, adding that the company makes no reference to halal on its website.
“There have been mixed voices but it’s not up to us to comment on them. We are currently 100 percent focusing on the Chinese market.”
Yap, who is also the company’s chief executive, stresses that the start-up’s focus is instead on benefiting the environment by helping lower greenhouses gases from animal protein production and reducing the enormous amount of land given over to animals and the mountain of grains required to feed them.
With co-founder Lim Jin Yin, a fellow longtime vegetarian, Yap decided to launch with a pork replacement because they figured it would be the most “problematic” meat to address.
Not only is there enormous environmental pressure from the sheer scale of producing the world’s most widely consumed meat, the pork industry is facing a disaster in Phuture’s back yard.
China, which produced 54 million tonnes of pork last year, accounts for around half of the world’s pork output. However, a widespread African swine fever (ASF) infection has been decimating its pig population.
According to official figures, China had 375 million pigs at the end of March, 10 percent fewer than there were 12 months previously. The disease has spread to neighbouring Vietnam since it emerged in China a year ago, prompting neighbours to protect their own herds. According to Rabobank, China will struggle to import enough pork to offset its production losses.
“Pork is the most widely consumed animal protein, but it’s also one of the most problematic. Recently ASF has hit the whole pork industry hard. That’s the reason why we chose to work on pork first before moving into other plant-based meat products,” said Lim, who was also on the call from Hong Kong.
“We want to become the solution to the problem. If pork didn’t bring any problems, why should we bother trying to solve it.”
“We are pushing a very positive agenda, which is sustainable foods for the good of the environment. We are pursuing this agenda, not bringing pork to Muslims,” Yap added.
The pair say their pork mince product, when it launches in Singapore through foodservice channels later this year, will not contain any traces of animal protein, pork or otherwise. They believe their core market will be formed of ethnic-Chinese pork eaters who want a meat-free alternative.
In this way, they dismiss “halal pork” criticism in the same way they would view complaints that they are offering meat to vegans.
“We have designed a product to encourage meat-eaters to eat less animal protein,” said Yap.
“I’m a vegetarian, but as long as it is plant-based and tastes good, I would still definitely eat it without compromising my principles.”
(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim [email protected])
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