On 12th September 2023, a new scientific paper was published in Nature Communications finding that giving up meat would yield significant benefits for the climate, biodiversity, and even food security in coming decades. It concludes that swapping 50% of the world’s flesh from cows, chicken, pigs and milk consumption with plant-based alternatives by mid-century could effectively halt the ecological destruction associated with farming. It could also lead to a 31% reduction in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of not burning 1.8 trillion pounds of coal each year between 2020 and 2050.
Under a model that assumes the status quo continues, demand for meat would continue to rise globally, with overall land devoted to agriculture growing by 4% by 2050. However, if people replace half of the meat and milk that they eat with analogues made from plants over the same period, land used for feeding and keeping livestock would shrink by 12% (which is 653 million hectares).
The study, titled “Feeding climate and biodiversity goals with novel plant-based meat and milk alternatives” was authored by Marta Kozicka from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Laxenburg, Austria), and collaborators. She said, “It was interesting to see how powerful this dietary change can be and to see all these impacts across the spectrum of sustainability outcomes or objectives.”
However, the paper comments that moving away from animal source foods (ASF) would be challenging. It says, “Nevertheless, ASF consumption globally is projected to continue growing. There has been some success in encouraging plant-based diets in high-income countries, where ASF consumption is highest — increasingly more consumers identify as flexitarian (eating meat occasionally); however, only a few percent are vegan. This suggests that a global shift in diets away from ASF will be challenging and may require a range of technological and policy interventions.” Precision fermentation to produce proteins from bacteria, fungi, and algae without cholesterol could provide such a technological advantage without the need to produce meat in labs (as this would not be suitable for vegans and would be less healthy).