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Are alternative proteins a solution to the agriculture/ crossroads?

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Agriculture is at a climate crossroads. Alternative proteins are a global solution.

Source: Good Food Initiative

Closeup on field of corn

The math and science are clear.

To have a shot at achieving net-zero emissions by 2050—the universal goal the world needs to hit to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and have a shot at a sustainable future—we must halve emissions by 2030. Alongside transitions in energy and transport, a food system transition is needed to get on that path. Within that food system transition, alternative ways of making meat can chart a new course for agriculture—one defined not only by lower emissions but by greater food security, global health, and resilience.

The world’s climate experts weigh in on food and agriculture

As part of its Sixth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that “the extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments.” Some losses due to climate change are already irreversible, while others are approaching irreversibility. In the face of this escalating crisis, mitigation, adaptation, and innovation must go hand in hand. For our food system, that means significantly and quickly reducing the climate impact of agriculture and finding more sustainable, secure, and just ways of feeding billions of people on a rapidly warming planet.

As the IPCC report lays out, agriculture is both a driver and victim of climate change’s ecological, economic, and social impacts. Today, food systems cause approximately a third of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Our current system is heavily reliant on conventional animal agriculture, which alone is responsible for more than half of those emissions. Emissions from conventional animal agriculture not only increase global temperatures but reduce crop yields, contribute to devastating droughts, and cause even greater instability within an already vulnerable and complex global food system and supply chain.

Alternative proteins as a climate solution, with co-benefits for land, water, global health, and food security

Fortunately, we have options available that can transform our food and agricultural system into one that is both sustainable and resilient. Alternative proteins—including meat made from plants and cultivated from animal cells—reduce emissions caused by our current system while also providing a host of environmental benefits. The IPCC’s draft report on climate change mitigation names plant-based and cultivated meat as transformative solutions that, alongside transitions in the energy and transportation sectors, can significantly reduce emissions. The report explains that not only do alternative proteins emit far less greenhouse gasses compared to conventional meat products, they use less land, water, and soil nutrients and result in less pollution. In other words, alternative proteins are a multi-solver: a climate solution with co-benefits.

Globally, more land is dedicated to animal-based food production than any other purpose. Given the forecasts by agricultural economists that show global meat production and consumption more than doubling by 2050, we are headed for what the World Resource Institute describes as the “global land squeeze”—ever-increasing competition over finite land resources driven by agricultural expansion and the rising demand for meat. With business-as-usual meat production, the basic land math doesn’t pencil out: We will be short by approximately 593 million hectares. In addition to reducing direct emissions, changing how we produce meat could free up three billion hectares of land—a land mass larger than China and India combined and then doubled. That land and the livelihoods it supports could be repurposed for regenerative farming, reforestation, renewable energy production, ecosystem recovery, and more.

Conventional animal agriculture is also responsible for about 30 percent of global agricultural water use. Such use impacts both water quantity and quality for communities worldwide. Animal-based food systems lower water tables, dry floodplains, and cause eutrophication in both freshwater and marine ecosystems, which can harm native species and reduce food sources for rural and coastal communities. In the United States, livestock production causes more than half of soil erosion on agricultural lands and a third of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in freshwater sources. According to the IPCC, “current food system trajectories are leading to biodiversity loss, land and aquatic ecosystem degradation without delivering food security and nutrition.” If these impacts are not mitigated, the environmental impacts of our agricultural system could increase by 50–90 percent by 2050, reaching levels beyond our planetary boundaries.

Ironically, agriculture-driven climate impacts threaten our ability to continue feeding the world, causing an increasingly problematic feedback loop. Droughts and extreme weather reduce arable land and threaten water supplies, while rising temperatures increase the prevalence of heat stress, infectious disease, and vector-borne disease among livestock. Likewise, marine fisheries are threatened by heat, eutrophication, reduced oxygen, toxic algae blooms, and sedimentation. These impacts on agriculture and global food security will become increasingly severe as climate change progresses. Major shifts in how we produce food are needed quickly if we are to stand a chance in halving emissions by 2030 on the path to a net-zero food future by 2050.

GFI’s expertise and insights in action

We’ve come to the proverbial fork-in-the-road moment of our times, and face a choice: If we are to feed, fuel, and future-proof the planet, do we continue down the business-as-usual road or chart a new path via sustainable agriculture?

Recently, GFI urged the authors of the Fifth National Climate Assessment to consider alternative proteins as a key aspect of sustainable agricultural systems. The National Climate Assessment is a congressionally-mandated report that helps the U.S. government “understand, assess, predict, and respond to” climate change. The purpose of the report is to set forth the current state of the science and potential solutions to help inform policymakers. The Fifth National Climate Assessment is currently being drafted by representatives from several federal agencies including USDA and NOAA.

In its written comment on the zero order draft of the Climate Assessment, GFI details how alternative proteins can transform our agricultural system:

Energy and emissions

Compared to conventional animal products, alternative proteins emit fewer greenhouse gasses. Compared to a quarter pound of conventional beef, the plant-based Beyond Burger generates 85 to 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions and requires 46 percent less energy. Cultivated meat produced using sustainable renewable energy sources reduces global warming impacts by 17 percent, 52 percent, and 85 to 92 percent compared to conventional chicken, pork, and beef, respectively. By switching from conventional animal products to alternative proteins, we can cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 8 eight metric gigatons per year globally.

In our comments, GFI emphasizes that alternative proteins can both mitigate the impact our agricultural system has on the climate and help the system adapt to better withstand the very real impacts of climate change. In other words, alternative proteins are better for the planet and better for agriculture. Alongside other food system innovations and solutions, they can play a starring role in agriculture’s next chapter around the world.

What’s next?

Through timely actions like these, GFI’s expert policy teams around the world are placing alternative proteins on the agendas of governments and agencies working at the intersection of agriculture, climate, biodiversity, and global health. This summer, look for GFI’s first-ever State of Global Policy Report, a comprehensive overview of government policies and programs that are investing in open-access alternative protein R&D, easing the path to market for novel products, and spurring whole new bioeconomies, jobs, and livelihoods. The report itself will bring much-needed transparency and visibility to how governments around the world are accelerating the transition to far more efficient ways of feeding a growing world.

A full draft of the Fifth National Climate Assessment will be published later this year. Interested stakeholders will have the opportunity to provide comments. If we want federal policies that promote climate-forward agriculture, ensure food security, and protect our planet, it is critical that reports like the Fifth National Climate Assessment reflect the realities of our current agricultural system and highlight the role alternative proteins play as a key solution required for a more sustainable, secure, and just food future.

Authors

 

Madeline Cohen REGULATORY ATTORNEY

Madeline Cohen works on regulatory and policy issues affecting cultivated meat and plant-based foods. Areas of expertise: regulatory landscape, domestic policy, and litigation

Sheila Voss VICE PRESIDENT, COMMUNICATIONS

Sheila Voss oversees GFI’s strategic awareness and action campaigns, data-driven storytelling, and communications-related partnerships. Areas of expertise: plant science and sustainability, agricultural education, biodiversity and climate change messaging.

Shira Fischer POLICY PARALEGAL

Shira provides support to GFI’s policy team to level the regulatory playing field for alternative proteins. Areas of expertise: regulatory processes, policy research, project management

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Food

Can the supply chain for the demand for plant-based meat keep up?

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Demand for evidence-based knowledge is growing.   To bring it to all communities, we must democratize knowledge for the health and well-being of all life.

How do we strengthen ingredient and manufacturing capacity for plant-based meat in order to meet demand? GFI’s new report explores the future of this sector.
Authors: Blake Byrne, Ryan Dowdy, Ph.D.
Https://gfi. Org/wp content/uploads/2021/12/sci21045 science of alt protein january graphics website header featured image website header featured image

Evidence-based, Inspired by Nature, powered by passionate communities, and empowered by imagination.

In 2020, retail sales for plant-based alternatives grew twice as fast as overall food sales in the US. Sales for plant-based meat in particular grew 45 percent. This rising demand is influencing the sector in many ways, including an increasing number of farmers breaking into this “pulsing” category.

In recent years, consumer demand for plant-based meat has often outpaced the industry’s supply chain capabilities. In order to keep pace with the rapidly expanding demand for plant-based meat in the coming decade, the plant-based protein industry will need to make significant investments to expand manufacturing capacity and scale the ingredient supply chain.

The good news is we already have everything we need to enable such a system of systems.

Based on publicly available forecasts of plant-based meat demand and production needs, GFI’s new report, “Plant-based meat: Forecasting ingredient, infrastructure, and investment needs in 2030”, explores a hypothetical production scenario set in 2030, where plant-based meat has captured 6% of the global meat and seafood market, necessitating the production of 25 million metric tons (MMT) of plant-based meat annually.

Opportunities for Communities to take ownership in their stories: Be the Media.

Our analysis identifies a looming potential for global supply squeezes of cornerstone ingredients, like coconut oil and pea protein, in the coming years while also highlighting opportunities for the industry to proactively mitigate these supply strains. We also conservatively estimate that the industry will need to operate at least 800 manufacturing facilities—each producing on average at least 30,000MT of product annually—at a global capital cost of at least $27B within the decade in order to meet a 25MMT production target. This underscores the importance and urgency of incentivizing bold infrastructure investments to facilitate this transition.

Chart: estimated cumulative global capital expenditure in structured plant protein extrusion facilities by 2030.
GFI estimates that the plant-based meat industry collectively must invest at least $27B in capital expenditure into an estimated 810 extrusion facilities globally (each averaging 30,000 MT in annual throughput) to meet a 2030 global production target of 25MMT.

Some of these supply-side constraints are already happening. It is no secret that, in recent years, the plant-based meat industry has been supply, not demand, constrained. Numerous manufacturers are running into difficulties expanding production capacity to meet the needs of restaurants and grocery stores eager to offer novel and sustainable products.

GFI’s mission is to accelerate a transformation in our food system toward alternative protein production platforms as quickly as possible. Encouragingly, several industry analysts and market research reports have projected that this transformation may occur very rapidly. However, the topline projections often understate the real-world challenges of meeting such rapidly growing demand.

Market adoption curves can occur with shocking speed in many sectors, but in the food and agriculture system, transformation entails massive ingredient supply chain and infrastructure implications—not to mention impacts on global commodities markets—that can take time and substantial capital to manifest.

This is not like an app on a smartphone, where—in theory—billions of users can download it nearly instantaneously. This is not even like the conversion from traditional mobile phones to smartphones, where consumers made the switch by virtue of a single purchase of a product containing just a few ounces of material. Sustained transformation of the food system necessitates durable changes in the entire end-to-end supply chain of food production and, of course, lasting shifts in consumer purchasing patterns.
The private sector—investors, ingredient processors, extrusion equipment providers, and manufacturers alike—can realize significant financial upside by appreciating and planning for the enormous plant-based meat supply chain build that must take place in the coming decade. Likewise, governments would be wise to recognize that meaningful climate gains from a scaled shift towards plant-based meat will not be achievable in the near term unless they invest soon in open-access R&D and infrastructure for this burgeoning industry.

Meat made differently

Plant-based meat supply chains have structural efficiency and flexibility advantages over their conventional meat counterparts. Despite these comparative efficiencies, the industry should not underestimate the challenges and opportunities in expanding the plant-based meat supply chain to a scale rivaling that of conventional meat. Our analysis quantitatively demonstrates the enormous manufacturing footprint and level of investment necessary to avoid future supply constraints and successfully hit even modest plant-based meat production targets in 2030.

But our effort doesn’t stop here! Going forward, GFI will add cultivated meat and fermentation-powered proteins reports that answer similar questions about these critical technologies. These forecast reports are critical in ensuring the alternative protein industry can effectively and expediently realize the promise of meat made differently.

Authors: Blake Byrne and Ryan Dowdy, PhD.

Source: Good Food Institute

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Here’s how Alternative proteins can help us achieve an equitable global water system

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Water is a finite, indispensable resource that gives way to life as we know it on this planet. It has immense, multidimensional value to individuals and communities around the world. And yet, precious as it is, many of our systems take water for granted.

We have the opportunity to help a new wave of protein production spring forth, one that puts the foods we love on the table while honoring water as a vital resource and paving the way for its conscionable and equitable stewardship.

To reach Sustainable Development Goal 6, “ensuring access to water and sanitation for all,” United Nations member states are working to ensure that all people have access to clean water and sanitation by 2030. Alternative proteins will be a crucial part of the solution.

Enhancing water access 

Alternative proteins allow us to free up our water supply to serve a growing global population.

By only requiring the crops that end up in the final product, plant-based meat production cuts out feed crops, the primary water requirement in conventional meat production. Overall, plant-based meat production requires up to 99 percent less water than its conventional counterparts. Likewise, cultivated meat production is projected to have massive blue water savings (water in freshwater lakes, rivers, and aquifers) with up to a 78 percent reduction as compared to beef production, according to CE Delft’s recent life cycle analysis.

Producing meat directly from plants or by cultivating cells will allow us to free up freshwater from animal agriculture, which is currently responsible for approximately one-third of all freshwater consumption in the world. As our changing climate places greater pressures on food and water security, we must make better use of our limited resources by modernizing meat production systems.

Improving water quality 

According to the United Nations FAO, “global water scarcity is caused not only by the physical scarcity of the resource, but also by the progressive deterioration of water quality in many countries, reducing the quantity of water that is safe to use.” Water pollution does not impact everyone equally: In the United States, contaminated drinking water is 40 percent more likely to occur in places with higher percentages of people of color. By reducing global reliance on animals for meat, alternative proteins can eliminate a major source of waterway pollutants and drive more equitable health outcomes.

Fertilizers used for animal feed crops and improper animal waste management contribute to waterway pollution. Bacteria, fungi, and viruses from manure, as well as antibiotics, hormones, and zoonotic waterborne pathogens can end up in drinking water sources and pollute nearby ecosystems. Fertilizers that runoff into waterways create unsafe levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which stimulate the growth of algal blooms that suffocate aquatic life (called eutrophication) and devastate marine ecosystems, creating vast dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and other coastal waters. Harmful algal blooms are estimated to cost the United States $4.6 billion per year.

Because alternative protein production does not involve animal feed or animal waste, it does not contribute to water pollution via harmful agricultural runoff. Studies show that plant-based meat could reduce over 90 percent of eutrophying pollution compared to conventional animal production. Cultivated meat could reduce eutrophying pollution by 98 percent compared to conventional beef. In most countries, alternative protein production facilities will be regulated like any other food production facility, and therefore subject to higher environmental protections than minimally regulated agricultural facilities. These regulations ensure that local waterways will not be contaminated by alternative protein production facilities.

Addressing climate change

By transitioning to alternative proteins, we can mitigate the broader effects of climate change on the water cycle and global water supply. Plant-based meat production uses 47 to 99 percent less land than conventional meat and yields massive reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, cultivated meat outperforms all forms of conventional meat production when renewable energy is used, reducing the climate footprint of beef, pork, and chicken by 92 percent, 52 percent, and 17 percent, respectively.

Global warming land use

Cultivated meat reduces land use up to 95 percent compared to beef, 72 percent compared to pork, and 63 percent compared to chicken. With this massive decrease in land use, we can put policies in place to preserve the forests that regulate global temperatures and play a massive part in controlling the planet’s water cycle.

Unmitigated animal agriculture will have ripple effects on Earth’s climate, escalating the global prevalence of drought and water scarcity. The clearing of trees for grazing and crop land is the greatest driver of deforestation, and deforestation in turn can destabilize the water cycle. Recycling water through land vegetation is especially important in giant tropical ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest, which is thought to provide atmospheric moisture as far as the Midwest. Moreover, as global temperatures rise, droughts become more frequent and more severe; increased temperatures lead to increased evaporation and transpiration.

Alternative proteins pave a brighter road ahead

The challenges presented by our global water crisis are large, but not insurmountable. Reimagining our protein supply to make better use of finite natural resources will be key to restoring water health and access to our global communities. This is precisely the opportunity alternative proteins present.

To modernize meat production, we need public investment in open-access research to fill technological gaps and robust public policies to maximize the benefits of alternative protein production. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations specifically calls for policies and incentives that encourage sustainable diets to counter water pollution from agriculture. Governments should include alternative proteins in public procurement policies for healthy and sustainable food in schools, hospitals, care facilities, and other public institutions. This will increase the availability of alternative proteins and will likely help lower prices, because bulk purchasing by institutions can reduce costs. Additional progressive land, water, and energy policy, as well as a renewed focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion are needed throughout the food system.

Alternative proteins are critical to building a world where water is clean, plentiful, and valued by all—and every stakeholder has a role to play. The Good Food Institute has defined the key challenges facing the alternative protein field and the open opportunities for academic, industry, and government stakeholders to get involved. Read more about the roadmap ahead.

 

Authors

 

Amy Huang UNIVERSITY INNOVATION MANAGER

Amy Huang oversees GFI’s efforts to transform universities into engines for alternative protein research and education. Areas of expertise: university programs, academic ecosystem-building, global health, design thinking, effective altruism, public speaking.

 

Lauren Stone POLICY COORDINATOR

Lauren advances alternative protein policy by researching, writing, and supporting legislative efforts. Areas of expertise: policy communications, food systems, food policy

Source: Good Food Institute

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Food

Too big to feed: The need to shift our food systems

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Pat Mooney is the co-founder and executive director of the ETC Group, and is an expert on agricultural diversity, biotechnology, and global governance with decades of experience in international civil society and several awards to his name.

The ETC group is an international civil society organization headquartered in Canada with offices in Mexico, Philippines, Nigeria and USA. ETC group has consultative status with ECOSOC, FAO, UNCTAD, UNEP, UNFCCC, IPCC and the UN Biodiversity Convention.

Since 1977, ETC group has focused on the role of new technologies on the lives and livelihoods of marginalized peoples around the world. Pat Mooney has almost half a century of experience working in international civil society, first addressing aid and development issues and then focusing on food, agriculture and commodity trade.

He received The Right Livelihood Award (the “Alternative Nobel Prize”) in the Swedish Parliament in 1985 and the Pearson Peace Prize from Canada’s Governor General in 1998. He has also received the American “Giraffe Award” given to people “who stick their necks out.” The author or co-author of several books on the politics of biotechnology and biodiversity, Pat Mooney is widely regarded as an authority on issues of agricultural diversity, global governance, and corporate concentration.

Although much of ETC’s work continues to emphasize plant genetics and agriculture, the work expanded in the early 1980s to include biotechnology. In the late 1990s, the work expanded further to encompass a succession of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology, geoengineering, and new developments ranging from genomics and neurosciences to robotics and 3-D printing. Pat Mooney and ETC group are known for having discovered and named The Terminator seeds – Genetically-modified seeds designed to die at harvest.

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Food and Land

Plant-based food industry reveals steady growth

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New retail sales data from the Good Food Institute and Plant Based Foods Association

 

  • In 2021, plant-based meat sales remained steady with $1.4 billion in sales.
  • In the past three years, plant-based meat unit sales have grown by 51%, or 5x the growth of animal-based meat unit sales (9%).
  • Plant-based milk dollar sales grew by 4% to reach $2.6 billion while animal-based milk dollar sales declined by 2%.
  • Plant-based eggs were the fastest-growing plant-based category in 2021, with 42% dollar sales growth while conventional egg dollar sales declined by 4% in 2021.

View the market research for breakdowns by category, household data and purchase dynamics, and comparisons with animal categories.

For more information and analysis on the plant-based meat category’s sales performance, read GFI’s blog post, A deeper dive into plant-based meat sales in 2021, with insights into inflation, pandemic impacts, ingredient shortages, supply chain disruptions, and more.

Join GFI, PBFA, and SPINS for a launch event covering the data

The free webinar will cover:

  • Category insights for overall plant-based foods, plant-based meat, eggs, milk, other dairy, meals, baked goods, and more, further segmented by protein source, format, and product type.
  • Consumer demographic information, as well as purchase dynamics for plant-based food categories, including household penetration, repeat rates, and dollar sales per trip and per buyer.
  • Plant-based vs. animal-based category sales and growth.
  • Perspectives on the growth of plant-based foods during Covid-19 and what it means for the future of plant-based performance at retail.
Register now →
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