Plant-based meat alternatives and cultured meats are the future of food. Governments should be investing more towards these sustainable options.
As governments strive to achieve bold national climate goals, vast amounts of money are being allocated to boost mass transit systems and conduct research and development for cleaner energy alternatives. But there’s one carbon-spewing sector that remains ripe for reinvention: the meat we eat. If nations don’t invest in its transformation, we risk negating the climate progress being made elsewhere.
A bold new report co-authored by United Nations senior adviser Dr Albert T. Lieberg, and produced with support from The Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, illustrates how accelerating global demand for meat and dairy products is heavily contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and putting immense pressure on natural resources, contributing to land degradation, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water pollution and water scarcity.
The report, titled The Need for Change, reveals that in the 30-year span between 1989 and 2019, global meat production nearly doubled, from 174 to 337 million tonnes, driven in large part by emerging economies. The most substantial growth in meat consumption per capita has occurred in East and Southeast Asia, particularly in China. In that same time period, global milk production also rose from 537 million tonnes to 883 million tonnes.
These dramatic increases have manifold negative impacts on our planet. Beef production is the top driver of deforestation globally, with cattle ranching directly associated with 80 per cent of current Amazon deforestation. Animal-based agriculture is responsible for up to a third of all fresh water consumption in the world, far surpassing the amount used for industrial, municipal, or household purposes.
Global greenhouse gas emissions by the livestock sector alone exceed emissions by all cars, trains, ships and planes in the world combined, and contribute more than the overall emissions of the United States. In short, the ambitious climate targets that are needed to avert environmental catastrophe are not achievable without global dietary change.
These concerns are particularly acute in the Asia-Pacific region. China is the world’s most significant meat-producing country, accounting for 24 per cent of global meat production in 2019, and projections show continued regional increases in the coming years.
Without immediate action to change that trajectory, nations risk not only depleting their finite natural resources, but also increasing the risk of breeding zoonotic diseases, which contribute to widespread illness and food supply disruptions. As the world continues to reel from the Covid-19 pandemic, the last thing anyone needs is more disruption.
Fortunately for us all, technological innovation has brought humanity to the threshold of a new food production era, which has the potential to dramatically reduce the climate and public health risks associated with animal farming. Cultivated meat, which is grown directly from animal cells, rather than conventional farming, eliminates the risk of zoonotic disease by divorcing meat production from industrial animal agriculture.
A shift towards plant-based and cultivated meat wouldn’t just make nations less prone to outbreaks, it would also free up vast amounts of land and other resources that are currently being squandered. Research shows that producing a plant-based burger can emit 90 per cent less greenhouse gases, require 99 per cent less water, 46 per cent less energy, and 93 per cent less land compared with a quarter pound of US beef.
At scale, cultivated meat can also slash water use and greenhouse gas emissions, and will use a projected 95 per cent less land than conventional beef production.
The challenge comes in expanding the scale. Cultivated meat is currently only approved for sale in Singapore and being offered on a minuscule scale, due in part to high production costs.
Plant-based meats are more widely available, but even though prices are coming down for some successful brands, most products in the market are still well above price parity with conventional meat, which discourages their widespread adoption. This is exactly the kind of imbalance that public-sector investment has the capacity to fix.
To drive down costs to consumers and stimulate economic development more broadly, governments need to significantly invest in open-access research aimed at accelerating the progress of plant-based and cultivated meat.
Such funding can help close critical research gaps, such as improving methods of plant-based and cell-based food manufacturing or optimising non-animal proteins to assess their suitability for use as ingredients. That can, in turn, spur the creation of new companies, expand consumer choice and strengthen a country’s economic competitiveness.
This strategic approach is working for renewable energy, and it can work for food too. By using public funds to reduce consumption of conventional, resource-intensive meat and dairy, in favour of more nutrient-dense and sustainable alternatives, nations can contribute to a necessary global shift and preserve life on this planet for future generations.
Original source: https://www.scmp.com