Animal Welfare & Alternative Proteins in the UAE

A brief field overview and career guide

Written by EA NYUAD Research Staff

Two-Minute Summary

The UAE is a high-income country which farms 22 million land animals a year. Since 1980, the country’s animal product consumption has been on a downward trend, yet the UAE’s production of these products has risen over the past decades and is now at an all-time high. Farmed animal welfare is extremely neglected in terms of resources with all existing organizations focusing on companion animals and their adoption. The private sector is more accessible so we, therefore, believe that the alternative protein sector is the most viable option to displace animal products in the region, and will be the focus of this report.

 

Reports estimate that cultivated meat could skyrocket to become a billion dollar global industry by the end of the decade, as long as companies can overcome key hurdles such as pricing and regulatory approvals, and ensure consumer acceptance. [1] With Asia being home to over half of the world’s population and, as a result, facing the greatest threat in terms of food insecurity and its associated social, environmental, and economic challenges, Asia-based students, researchers, investors, and entrepreneurs, have the opportunity to address the growing need for meat, seafood, egg and dairy alternatives in the region.

The UAE is the perfect place to work and invest in the alternative protein sector due to its recent commitment to carbon neutrality, along with the growing focus on sustainable agriculture practices and food security to ensure it can feed its growing population. It is also home to huge sources of investment and support for agriculture technology and food innovation. The UAE has the position to be a front runner in alternative protein development in the region.

How big is this problem?

Animal Distribution and Magnitude

In 2017, 22 million farmed land animals were reported in the UAE, making up 0.02% of the global number. [2] While the total consumption of all animals and their products has been on the decline overall in the UAE, the number of eggs, milk, chicken, and cow meat produced has  steadily risen over the past decades and is now at an all-time high with the number of chicken meat and eggs produced having almost doubled since 2010.

When compared with other countries in the Gulf, the UAE ranks relatively high at the third place out of seven countries that had data on the amount of meat produced a year, yet it only produces a quarter of what Saudi Arabia produces. [3] In this sense, the UAE is not a main producer within the Gulf nor at the global stage.  However, the UAE’s drive to be a frontrunner of sustainability and innovation can be used to promote alternative paths to animal welfare, namely through alternative protein sources. The amount of investment in innovative food technology and international plant-based food companies’ influence in the UAE has been steadily increasing, making alternative proteins a worthwhile focus to achieve higher animal welfare.

What are the aspects of animal welfare in the UAE?

Wild Animal Welfare

There is not extensive information available about the extent of wild animal suffering in the UAE. With the rise of urbanization and development, many animals are displaced from their natural habitats and risk extinction. [4] In 2016, The UAE government passed a law regulating the possession of wild and exotic animals as well as amended existing legislation to "maintain the rights and dignity of animals in the UAE." [5] There are several organizations in the UAE committed to wild animal welfare, such as World Wildlife Fund as well as the Emirates Animal Welfare Society focusing on wild animal welfare and saving wild turtles[6] through campaigns and reserves. 

Farmed Animal Welfare

The UAE has 22 million farmed animals as of 2017, however, there are no organizations in the UAE that advocate for better animal welfare in farm facilities. As summarized previously, this number is not as large as other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt. The UAE carries out strictly enforced halal slaughter, which includes ensuring that the animal is not tortured during slaughter, that they are not exhausted from travel to the slaughter facility, and that the slaughtering tool is not sharpened in front of the animal, nor are they allowed to be stunned. It is also necessary for the slaughter process to be recorded, to ensure that it is being done correctly. All slaughters are documented to ensure that that the animal was killed in the halal manner. [7]

The UAE does have federal legislation protecting animal welfare. This legislation was updated in 2018 to provide more protection for animals. Federal Law 16 of 2007 applies to all of the seven emirates. It ensures that owners and protectors of animals provide animals with adequate food and water, shelter, the “opportunity to display normal patterns of behavior”, appropriate handling to reduce fear (both during life and prior to slaughter), prevention, and treatment of disease, and care during transport. [8]

Companion Animal Welfare

Companion animals are not uncommon in the UAE, although exact statistics are difficult to acquire. The above legislation regarding animal welfare also applies to companion animals, thus giving them legal protection as well. There are several organizations that seek to end the abuse of companion animals and address their welfare, especially through adoption.

How solvable is it?

Work currently being done to ensure animal welfare

There are a few organizations that try to address animal welfare issues in the UAE with very few of them addressing farmed animal welfare. In the past few years, there has been more federal legislation to ensure animal welfare in the UAE, but it is unclear whether imported animal products would follow these standards. Since the legislation is federal, there is little potential for change without working within the government system.

However, there is a growing movement in the UAE towards plant-based diets. Plant-based protein sales have grown over the past few years. The government also has set alternative proteins and agricultural technology as part of their priorities for food security and sustainable development by 2030. [9] This includes the development of Food Tech Valley in Dubai which focuses on food production innovation and food security for the arable climate of the UAE. [10] These have the potential to reduce the population dependent on traditional animal products and in turn reduce animal suffering.

While food security is being taken very seriously by the UAE, the public’s awareness about the issues surrounding animal protein consumption, such as animal suffering, environmental and health concerns, is lagging behind. This could be a hindrance to consumer acceptance of and consumer behavior changes to alternative proteins. Another issue is the lack of collaboration between industry and academia, which could be alleviated by shifting the current model to having an industry create a project based on a need or issue and then coming up with funding to support academic research to not only create solutions but also train another generation of researchers.

Essential to a flourishing alternative protein space is, first, the recognition of the importance of the alternative protein field by local industries and governmental agencies, as well as the consumer public. Only then can crucial research be conducted, after which the business end can provide funding and infrastructure. With alternative protein being the next frontier, it is of utmost importance to continue research and investment in this field. Research can be commercialized into the industry through Technology Transfer Offices and governmental support in the form of financial resources and infrastructure could increase innovation.

Encouraging the development of alternative protein sources and moving away from traditional animal agriculture are pathways to reduce animal suffering in the UAE. This would mean encouraging residents to support businesses that supply these products, as well as increasing research and development into alternative agriculture practices.

How neglected is the problem? 

Resources available

There are not many resources available to improve animal welfare programs in the UAE. Domestically, there are few NGOs that focus on animal welfare, and the ones that do tend to focus on other areas beyond farmed animal welfare that have less magnitude.

However, there are significant resources available for alternative protein and agriculture development. The UAE has made it clear that they are looking for sustainable solutions to feed a growing population in accordance with their new commitment to reach carbon neutrality. This also includes a plan to “establish an Ag Fund or other smart financing mechanism to provide financing to all food and agribusinesses, with focus on startups and SME segments, and technology adoption”. [11] This could be extremely beneficial for those interested in starting alternative protein businesses in the country, which can displace the demand for traditional animal agriculture. 

Groups working on animal welfare

Based on our research, there are less than a dozen groups focused on animal welfare and all of the active groups in the UAE are focusing on companion animal welfare and adoption with little or no focus on wild animal suffering or farmed animal welfare. Because farmed animal welfare has been neglected and sustainability and food security are major objectives of the UAE, focusing on their welfare via displacement through alternative proteins is the most promising and effective path to the best of our knowledge.

What are the EA-aligned organizations and charities operating in the UAE?

There are no organizations in the UAE that have been reviewed by Animal Charity Evaluators, an EA-aligned organization that evaluates and recommends charities for people interested in giving to evidence-based charities.

Careers in the Alternative Protein Sector in the UAE & Gulf

 

UAE nationals and residents who wish to help out in this cause area can be more impactful by participating in research, development, and marketing of alternative proteins to ensure that the country’s overall animal product consumption reduces and in turn decreases farmed animal suffering. Career options in this sector can focus on research and development of alternative proteins, marketing, program/project management, operations, business development, or any career or initiative that can promote implementation efficiency or develop effectiveness and visibility of alternative protein products.

Local evaluation

While the typical forms of animal welfare activism may not be effective in the United Arab Emirates, it is still a country with the potential to increase animal welfare through other pathways, namely alternative proteins. Despite the smaller number of farmed animals in the UAE, its position as a frontrunner for sustainability and innovation in the Gulf and globally can prove extremely beneficial to increase regional and global demand for alternative protein products. This is due to the UAE’s potential to galvanize similar change within other countries in the Gulf. This strategy has been used by multiple alternative protein companies, such TiNDLE, that use the UAE as a springboard to penetrate the Gulf market, especially Saudi Arabia.

 

Increasing the amount of vegetarian and vegan options is known to increase sales of these options, while decreasing the sale of animal products, amongst all types of consumers. Encouraging the increase of alternative protein sources would not only decrease demand for animal agriculture domestically but will also encourage production in the region and globally.  An innovative startup landscape  and ample investment opportunities make the UAE an incredible place to work on alternative protein technology to displace the animal agriculture market.

How to approach the area

Final year High School student or 1st, 2nd, or 3rd year undergraduate student

Moving into university is a big step for many people, exposing them to new ideas and opportunities. It is never too early to start looking for ways to make an impact, especially in such an up-and-coming space as alternative protein. To start, read through the guide for students and newcomers to the alternative protein space by the GFI, which provides the basic information about the state of alternative protein and what opportunities are available. Whether starting university or still deciding a major, make sure to investigate which of the key disciplines in alternative protein space suits you best and choose a major accordingly. In order to have a better idea of where a certain major can take you within the space, search for it on the alternative protein career pathway site that has compiled different career trajectories within the alternative protein space according to major.

 

If you are not sure about your major and how it can relate to bettering the world, look through some 80,000 Hours Career Reviews that speak to you. Another impactful course of action for students is to create an Alternative Protein Project group on your campus. This initiative empowers university students to use the resources available to them to accelerate the movement for alternative proteins and can be a valuable resource to transform universities in the UAE into change-makers in the field. Make sure to look through this guide on how to create an impactful group from the get-go. Also look into other online resources that can build your knowledge, skills, and familiarity with the alternative protein space. Finally, make sure to add yourself to the Talent Database and connect to others in the field and explore KET Industry Landscape Maps to get an overview of the different companies that already exist.

 

Final-year undergraduate student

As a final year student, large decisions are incoming, and whether you choose grad school or a job, looking into alternative protein as a future career is a promising option. Provided that you have completed all the recommended steps for 1st to 3rd-year students, you have amassed a large knowledge base to propel you into your graduate studies and career. Many final-year students have to complete a capstone project or thesis that is the culmination of their undergraduate career. If you want to work in the alternative protein sector or continue graduate studies in this direction, consider conducting your senior thesis on a topic related to alternative protein development. Alternative protein development and distribution span many different disciplines, so students from all academic disciplines can find a way to contribute to this cause. Potential research ideas could entail researching, the biological processes involved in cell-cultured meat, economic models to predict, and the marketing, sale, perception, and acceptance of alternative protein and plant-based diets in the UAE. If you haven’t yet, add yourself to the Talent Database and connect to others in the field.

Before you decide on whether to pursue graduate school or move directly into the job market, look through some 80,000 Hours Career reviews about careers that interest you. If you decide to go to graduate school, make sure to read through the key disciplines needed in the alternative protein space again and investigate possible career pathways according to different majors you could pursue. If you decide to look into jobs in the alternative protein scene, look over the Good Food Institute alternative Protein Careers Board, Food Tech Jobs, and CellAgri’s Job Board80,000 Hours Job Board and Animal Advocacy Careers Job Board are useful for all different fields in the animal advocacy terrain. Joining the quarterly GFI Careers Call is also a great opportunity to understand what it takes to work in the alternative protein sector and what academic and industry opportunities are available.

If you are still unsure about the possibilities of a major or a career pathway, schedule a 1-on-1 call with an animal advocacy career expert since these are especially useful for those who have completed the course and are interested in helping animals professionally. Whether at a crossroads after graduating or wanting to enter animal advocacy to maximize your positive effect, this call is a personalized way to discover one’s comparative advantage and possible career trajectories.

 

Entrepreneur

If you are an entrepreneur trying to break into the alternative protein space, the first thing you need is knowledge about the field you are seeking to create a start-up in and a viable idea for a startup. To gain in-depth background knowledge, complete Cambridge's Alternative Protein Society Fundamentals Programme for Policy & Entrepreneurship. Through this program, you will not only gain a deeper understanding of the field but also understand the regulatory hurdles and business opportunities within it. To get a broad overview, look into GFI’s website on entrepreneurship with the alternative protein scene. In order to grasp what the field needs and where your startup can fit in, look into the database of solutions and possible ideas for startups to get a sense of what innovations are needed. Read through GFI’s entrepreneurship resources and their alternative protein startup guide. Additionally, add yourself to the Talent Database and connect to others in the field. Once you have a viable idea, create a pitch deck and review it according to these guidelines and reach out to the GFI to get direct feedback on your pitch deck.

Funding your startup is essential to its success. Charity Entrepreneurship’s incubation program provides a two-month in-depth training on the critical components of creating an effective organization. There is a chance of being awarded seed funding with grants ranging from $50,000 to $175,000. Discover where you could find possible early-stage resources in the incubator and accelerator database. If you are based in the UAE and are seeking to create an impactful startup focused on the UAE and the Gulf, the idea for a startup is all that is needed to enter The Food Tech Challenge, which invites individuals to pitch their ideas for a startup that focuses on increasing food security and receives 1 million US dollars of funding for the project. Another opportunity is startAD, which is for young innovators in the UAE who are passionate about developing tech-enabled solutions for the greatest global challenges. Another option is to request access to GFI’s investor database in order to see global funding opportunities. 

Once an alternative protein startup has been established, one can look into different accelerators. Other recommendations are Techstars collaboration with Hub71, which provides a fruitful opportunity in Abu Dhabi as well as mentorship and investment for those who already have a solid foundation for their startup.

 

Investor 

Alternative protein is a field that is rapidly growing. Funding is of utmost importance to keep the momentum behind the sector going, so investors are essential to its flourishing. To begin, read through GFI’s investor website and its resources, particularly the yearly state of the industry reports. If you are an accredited investor under SEC Regulation D, add yourself to the alternative protein investor directory. If you are not accredited, participate in equity or product crowd-funding, invest in startups through public holding companies or in publicly traded companies, and incorporate considerations of alternative proteins in broad public equity portfolios, among many others. Another opportunity is the Conscious Investor Fellowship, created by startAD and VentureSouq, which is a fellowship for mission-driven stakeholders from the GCC. It is the first pan-regional impact investor program for GCC-based private, corporate, government, and family office investors.

 

Researchers

Food innovation could not happen without scientists. If you are new to the space, completing GFI’s Plant-Based and Cultivated Meat online course and Cambridge Alternative Protein Society’s Fundamentals Programme on the Technical Track can provide you with the background knowledge on the scientific research that goes into creating alternative proteins. To gain insight into what career trajectories within the field could look like, read through the Career Profiles of Scientists in the Field and read through the Researcher Skill Profile. Make sure to add yourself to the Collaborative Researcher Database and to the Talent Database to connect with others in the field. Another resource is the Research Labs Database which has compiled labs all around the world that do research on alternative proteins. Explore the public alternative protein research happening around the world and add your lab to the list if you are working in one. If funding is a necessity, look into the GFI’s funding grant and the Research Funding Database.

 

Media & Communications

Without marketing, media, and communications, the alternative protein sector would not be able to get the word out about new products and their benefits. To start off, add yourself to GFI’sthe Talent Database and connect to others in the field. A worthwhile opportunity would be to offer your skills through skilled volunteering for animal advocacy organizations to gain more experience within the animal advocacy field. Look into the recommended job boards and the opportunities within the outreach roles, such as social media manager, video editor, communications coordinator, marketing expert, and celebrity and media relations roles, which are in high demand.

Opportunities

UAE organizations within the area

Food Tech Valley is a Dubai-based venture focused on innovating food science through technology. Due to the arid climate of the UAE, the specific focus is on innovating agriculture to minimize water use and enhance food security. alternative protein, however, is also an area of interest, so this venture is likely to produce career opportunities for those with experience.

Tindle UAE is a Singapore-based company focused on plant-based meat alternatives to chicken meat. Founded in 2021, it has already expanded to 8 countries, including the UAE. They offer internship opportunities and, due to their quick expansion, job opportunities within the region are likely to open up.

 

Places for building your skills and knowledge

CellAgri is a news and insights platform that explores the future of food with cellular agriculture. Offering a guided course about cellular agriculture as well as a book on the newest products and innovations on the market, it is one of the most established resources in the UAE.

Animal Advocacy Careers Course is a free online course created for individuals who want to enter the field of animal advocacy and maximize their impact. The course presents the key considerations involved in working to help animals in different sectors, including alternative protein, and the many career opportunities that are available.

GFI’s Alternative Proteins Science Course is an online course that explores the science of alternative proteins in five self-paced modules. The focus is on the biological and chemical processes used to produce plant-based, fermentation-derived, and cultivated meat, as well as the environmental and economic drivers behind these market sectors.

The Cambridge alternative Protein Society’s Fundamentals Programme on the Technical Track and Fundamentals Programme for Policy & Entrepreneurship are two in-depth programs on alternative protein. The technical track focuses more on the scientific research that goes into creating alternative proteins, while the policy and entrepreneurship track focuses more on regulatory hurdles and business opportunities. Consisting of readings, discussions, and speaker events, as well as a career fair, these programs provide in-depth information for those interested in the alternative protein sector.

Skilled volunteering for animal advocacy organizations is also a fantastic way to gain more experience within the animal advocacy field. Some benefits are the flexible hours, the exposure to the field, and the connections to people who are established in animal welfare while improving your own skills and helping animals.

 

Job & Collaboration Boards

Good Food Institute Alternative Protein Careers Board, Food Tech Jobs, and CellAgri’s Job Board are job boards that compile job opportunities within the alternative protein field from all over the world. For those with valuable experience in the sector, this is a promising method to encounter efficient, industry-focused career opportunities.

80,000 Hours Job Board and Animal Advocacy Careers Job Board provide information on the latest opening within the animal advocacy field. In case alternative proteins are not your focus, but helping animals is still important in your career, these two job boards are more expansive and host opportunities in different fields of animal advocacy. 

Other Possible Side Projects

Keep an eye out on developments with Eat Just/Good Meat in Qatar. 

Eat Just inc., a startup that produces cultivated meat and vegan egg replacement, announced they are working with Doha Venture Capital and the Qatar Free Zones Authority. This also means Qatar will likely be the second country (after Singapore) to approve cultivated meat for sale. In addition to possible career opportunities in Qatar, this could also be pivotal for development in the UAE, and other governments in the region may follow suit.

 

Collaborate with other alternative protein and animal welfare organizations. 

Many universities that have EA chapters have also focused on developing alternative protein options and can be valuable resources. For example, it may be beneficial to organize a collaborative event with Cambridge University Alternative Protein Society.

Further reading:

  1. 80,000 Hours Problem Profile of Factory Farming

  2. EA Cause Profile on Animal Welfare

  3. Treatment of Animals in Industrial Agriculture

  4. Resources for learning more about effective farmed animal welfare

  5. Effective animal advocacy resources

  6. Resources for learning about career planning, cause prioritization, and key concepts of EA

About EA NYUAD

EA NYUAD is a chapter of the Effective Altruism movement, located in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Our vision is to foster and develop a welcoming, productive, and robust community of global leaders who use evidence and reason to look for the most effective ways of doing good in the world, and who take action on that basis. EA NYUAD has previously held collaborative events that attempted to raise awareness for animal welfare issues. These were typically smaller-scale events focused on awareness-raising. However, EA NYUAD has also incorporated animal welfare in the Arete Fellowship curriculum and encourages members to adopt plant-based diets. EA NYUAD has a clear dedication to improving animal welfare. Although EA NYUAD does not have any formal collaborations with major organizations in animal welfare, members of the community have considerable connections with many organizations in the field. These connections are developed by EA NYUAD’s presence at many EA conferences, which provide opportunities for EA NYUAD to expand its role in the animal welfare field. 

 

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Brian Tan for his feedback and support and to all interviewees for sharing their perspectives.

References

  1. The APAC Alternative Protein Industry Report 2021

  2. Farm Animal Statistics, Open Philanthropy

  3. Meat Production of Gulf Countries from 1961 to 2018, Our World In Data

  4. https://www.emiratesnaturewwf.ae/en/our-work/wildlife

  5. Banning private ownership of dangerous animals

  6. Feed the Turtles: Turtle Rehabilitation Project

  7. Animal Slaughtering Requirements According To Islamic Rules

  8. Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority

  9. Articulating national pathways for food systems transformation in support of the 2030 Agenda

  10. Explanation of the Food Tech Valley clusters and goals