Alternative proteins can help combat climate change and mitigate business risk, urges GFI
19 Oct 2021 --- As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) puts the finishing touches on part two of its Sixth Assessment Report – an assessment of the impacts of climate change on the planet to be completed in February 2022 – the Good Food Institute (GFI) addresses the implications of part one while highlighting opportunities for alternative proteins to mitigate climate impacts.
In August 2021, IPCC released the first installment of its Sixth Assessment Report, which provides “more insight than ever before” into the extent of climate impacts.
A “Shared Planet”
Innova Market Insights recently unveiled its Top Ten Trends for 2022, crowning “Shared Planet” as its number one trend for the forthcoming year. The theme focuses on how both industry and consumers can play their part in shaping a sustainable and prosperous future.
The market researcher underscores that consumers now rank planetary health as their number one concern, overtaking personal health, which has been the top priority in recent years. Myths and misunderstandings are “crumbling,” so it has never been more critical to engage in honest and open communication with consumers about climate change.
Toward this end, Foundation Earth recently launched a pilot program to test consumer response to a science-backed environmental scoring system. Eco-labeling is anticipated to rise in popularity. These front-of-pack indicators are designed to help consumers assess the overall environmental impacts of the products they buy while accelerating the industry’s journey toward net-zero emissions.
Addressing climate change
While not explored in the IPCC report specifically, the evidence is clear: how we produce, manufacture, and distribute our food contributes to climate change.
Agriculture, forestry and land use causes 7% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and 46% of methane emissions, much of which is driven by food production, says the GFI.
Understanding how agriculture and the food industry impact our planet is vital for the climate conversation and identifying solutions.
Below are the GFI’s three critical insights on climate change for the agriculture and food industry and three actions food companies can take to support climate solutions.
1. The data is clear. The GFI says it is possible to avert notable global warming by switching from conventional meat to plant-based or cultivated meat.
Plant-based R&D – presented as a pivotal lever of the sustainable food movement – has refocused from mimicking meat, fish and dairy to optimizing and diversifying options. Acknowledging this shift, Innova Market Insights has pegged “Plant-Based: The Canvas for Innovation” as its second Top Trend for 2022.
More consumers recognize plant-based alternatives as healthier and better for the planet. The appetite for diet variation is further boosting interest in this space, which led to a 59% increase in launches of new plant-based products in the year to August 2021.
Cell-based protein cultivated without culling animals is gaining interest across the global demographic of slaughter-free dieters as the plant-based movement matures.
Dutch research organization CE Delft and GFI’s life cycle assessment found that plant-based chicken emits 86% fewer emissions than conventional chicken, and cultivated chicken produced with renewable energy emits 17% less CO2 emissions than conventional chicken. Even more emissions savings are possible with pork and beef products.
Recent analysis by CE Delft found that cultivated meat may hit competitive cost and environmental benchmarks by 2030.
2. Making meat in les carbon-intensive ways via alternative protein technologies is a clear and feasible solution that can contribute to deep emissions reductions.
IPCC’s report shows that we are likely to soar past the 1.5ºC and 2ºC global climate targets unless deep reductions in CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.
According to the GFI, plant-rich diets are one of the most powerful tools for reducing food system emissions. Such alternative protein technologies could halve total food system emissions.
For any food company active or interested in the protein sector, alternative proteins are a clear-cut solution for lowering the carbon intensity of product portfolios.
3. As agriculture, forestry, and land use are the most significant contributors of methane emissions (46%), alternative proteins have the potential to play a unique role in achieving methane emissions reductions.
In the atmosphere, methane is converted to CO2 in about twelve years, after which the carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years. In those first 12 years, methane is more potent than CO2 at warming.
Large portions of global methane emissions come from enteric fermentation – mainly burps from cattle and other ruminants – and manure management. Swapping out a conventional beef burger for a plant-based, fermentation-enabled, or cultivated beef burger can result in 85% to 98% reductions in emissions.
Last week, a coalition of 25 breweries from across the UK and Ireland kick-started a campaign to tackle the climate emergency ahead of COP26 next month. Each brewery has brewed a new beer creating a limited-edition collection of 26 beers that use surplus bread that would otherwise have gone to waste.
The viability of alternative proteins
Last month, the GFI was awarded US$5 million to boost research into alternative proteins – a “powerful and scalable climate solution” that lacks critical funding.
New data from the non-profit revealed that public expenditures on alt-protein R&D in 2020 totaled a meager US$55 million.
Meanwhile, the genesis of the cell-based protein renaissance is anticipated to play a pivotal role in transforming the global food system. However, it has been noted that industry cannot harness this opportunity effectively without the help of farmers.
Cultivated meat emissions savings are further accumulated when cultivated meat production is powered by renewable energy. For greenhouse gas compared to conventional beef production, cultivated meat’s global warming benefits are best viewed as short-term, as beef’s impacts are driven primarily by methane.
By Elizabeth Green and Benjamin Ferrer
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