Chinese businesses are taking a greater interest in plant-based sources of protein as the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread worldwide. The virus—which has killed more than 3,000 people, mostly in China—is thought to have originated in Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan and transmitted to humans by either civets, pigs, or pangolins. According to Josh Tetrick, CEO of food technology startup JUST, interest in his company’s mung bean-based vegan egg replacer JUST Egg—which is already sold in some Chinese outlets—recently spiked. “Some of the biggest companies, larger food manufacturers, including some that are backed by the state government, are proactively reaching out to me personally, our executive team, our board, and the team in China, about now wanting to partner,” Tetrick told Bloomberg.
As a response to COVID-19, China permanently banned the consumption of wild animals in February, which, if enforced, would shut down a $74 billion industry. The ban does not apply to aquatic life, poultry, and “livestock”—even though pigs have not been ruled out as the species responsible for transmitting COVID-19 to humans. In addition to the latest virus outbreak, China is still dealing with the repercussions of last year’s African Swine Flu, which killed approximately 300 million pigs. While China has a long history of consuming and producing plant-based meat alternatives, animal meat consumption, in particular pork, has been on the rise in recent years. As a solution, entrepreneur David Yeung launched vegan pork products Omnipork and Omnimince by his brand Right Treat in mainland China late last year. “The combination of climate change, food insecurity, and public health issues mean we are at a very critical juncture in the history of the planet,” Yeung foreshadowed at a conference in 2018. “If we don’t do something, we will push the limits and no one knows what the impact of that will be. If we continue to consume the way we do now, unless some miracle happens, our food system and ecosystem are bound to collapse.”