NORSUS research on plant protein provides policy relevant answers


For four years, Erik Svanes at NORSUS has conducted research on the protein rich crops peas, beans, and oilseeds. – We have found answers to many of the uncertainties regarding this subject, and the answers are positive, says Svanes.

It is well known that plant protein products in general have a lower environmental impact than products from animal protein such as meat, eggs, dairy products, and seafood. Nevertheless, NORSUS researcher Erik Svanes wanted a more detailed and thoroughly examination of the effect of increased plant protein production.

In the four-year project FoodProFuture, Svanes did research on the protein-rich crops peas, beans, and on the oil and protein rich plants rape and turnip rape (oilseeds). These crops are collectively known as High-Protein Plants (HPP). Svanes worked in collaboration with other research institutions and enterprises, and central questions in the research were: Which role can the HPP have in our food production system? How do natural conditions and the limited agricultural land in Norway affect production? What about consumer habits? And will a change in diet affect anything else than the climate?

The research work being divided into several disciplines, NORSUS was responsible for the sustainability part of the project.

– We aimed to determine how Norwegian grown plant protein affects the environment compared to the food we eat today. The protein in the current Norwegian diet comes mainly from meat, fish, eggs, wheat and dairy products and we were interested in analysing the environmental affect caused by this type of protein food. The same analysis was done on the HPP and products made from these crops developed in the project, explains Svanes.

Another important aspect of the project was to investigate how the processing affected the raw materials. Some of the plant food benefits can be lost if the raw materials are processed in an inefficient way.

A field of peas is a beautiful sight. Thanks to NORSUS research, we also know with certainty that growing peas and other high-protein plants (HPP) like beans and turnip rape will contribute to lower environmental impact than the average Norwegian food protein. PHOTO: Anne Marthe Lundby

Several positive results

According to the research results, food based on HPP grown in Norway gives 5-10 times lower environmental impact than the average Norwegian food protein. This applies not only to climate, but to all environmental categories. The HPP result in far lower emissions and far lower consumption of resources than most other protein food products in Norway.

– In addition, it provides several advantages in agriculture, such as larger crops and less plant disease pressure for the subsequent in the same area, Svanes points out.

Although Norway has a small area of arable land, the population is also low. This means that the amount of arable land per person is on par with the rest of Europe. The research results conclude that HPP can have a significant role in Norwegian food supply and meet 10-15 per cent of protein needs in the future. A transition to more plant protein will also have a beneficial effect on the populations health if it replaces for example meat. Other advantages will be greatly reduced environmental impact, reduced pressure on arable lands in Norway and other countries and make Norway more self-sufficient with food and animal feed.

The research also shows that eating habits, attitudes, and values are very different from person to person and that this has a great impact on their diet. As a result, the environmental impact of the food eaten is very different from person to person. Such knowledge can be used for targeted measures to get consumers to eat more plant-based diets.

– This allows us to help consumers follow the authorities' recommendations for a healthy diet and to eat more environmentally friendly, says Erik Svanes, researcher at NORSUS.


  • Research project FoodProFuture (Innovative and Sustainable Exploitation of Plant Proteins in Future Foods) took place in the period April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2021.
  • The project was supported through the BIONÆR program from Research Council of Norway. Total framework for the project was NOK 39 million, including support from the Norwegian Research Council and the companies' own efforts.
  • Nine national and five international research partners were responsible for the research: NORSUS, NMBU, NIBIO, NTNU, SIFO, NLR, AgriAnalyse, SP (Sweden), JTI (Sweden), LUKE (Finland), VTT (Finland), CSGA (Bulgaria) and SINTEF.
  • In addition, 14 corporation partners from the food industry joined the project: Orkla Foods, HOFF, Mills, Gartnerhallen, BAMA, AM Nutrition, Halogen, Hozokawa (Germany), Norsk Matraps SA, Borregaard, Skala AS.
  • The main objective of the project was to build a knowledge platform for the production and exploitation of Norwegian plant protein resources for healthy and tasty plant-based products with a high protein content
  • The project was divided into a number of disciplines. These dealt with agriculture, processing, health, quality, sustainability, and the consumer perspective, as well as communication.
  • NORSUS conducted the research in sustainability together with the Swedish research institute RISE and in collaboration with the industry and research partners.
  • The research at NORSUS was done by Erik Svanes, as part of his PhD. Svanes has written a report, four articles (two published) and several posts at scientific and other conferences.

Researcher and PhD at NORSUS, Erik Svanes has written a report, four articles (two published) and several posts at scientific and other conferences during the four years of research at FoodProFuture.