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Forget the cow, one European company is making meat replacements straight from grass

Already the second largest largest exporter of agricultural products in the world (just behind the U.S.), the Netherlands is now looking to lead the way with another (very unlikely) cash crop -- grass.

A new partnership between one of the Netherlands' most storied agricultural companies -- Schouten -- and a new startup called Grassa hopes to commercialize meat substitutes made with proteins from processed grass.

The idea may not be as strange as some might think. The companies said that grass proteins could be a suitable alternative to widely used soybeans -- which have their own environmental challenges.

“Grass protein has massive potential,” said Rieks Smook, director of Grassa, in a statement. “Grass yields 2.5 times as much protein per hectare as soy. Grass supplies are readily available. Grass protein is a high-quality, local and scalable alternative to soy. When compared to other protein sources, it provides a huge reduction in the carbon footprint."

Thinking about it, finding ways to use grass proteins instead of cows really just cuts out a middle-man.

“A cow converts only 30 percent of the grass protein into milk and meat. Seventy percent is converted into manure. Grassa removes some of the excess proteins from the grass beforehand. The residual product, processed grass, is eaten by the cow. In this way, the protein in grass is optimally utilized,” Smook said in a statement.

For Schouten, a privately owned Dutch family business that's been in the agricultural industry since the late 19th century, grass proteins are just the latest in a string of attempts to boost agricultural demand.

“As a pioneer and innovator in the meat substitute market, we are always looking for interesting protein sources that can contribute to the protein transition,” says Henk Schouten, owner of Schouten Europe. “We are very interested in protein from grass.”

Grassa has already been treating grass as an input for animal feed to replace the use of soy there, and the company is working with Schouten to see if there are applications for its technology specifically for human consumption.

The European Union is looking to become more self-sufficient and wants to rely less on imports of soy and other commodities from places like Brazil (where soybean farming has been linked to deforestation).

By that metric, grass may fit the bill nicely. Any products that the partnership produces will still need to be approved by the European Food Safety Authority, but Grassa's tech has already been praised in the Netherlands in the country's official National Protein Strategy (a ten year plan to boost protein production in a way that's good for animals, people, and the planet), according to a statement.

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