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According to new research, if the world makes a just a 10% shift away from animal meat and replaces it with plant-based alternatives, it could lead to as much as 38 million hectares of land being freed – an area larger than that of Germany. The study also found that the cut in animal meat consumption would lead to enormous savings terms of other environmental factors, from water wastage to carbon emissions.
Published last week, new research conducted by Zurich-based alternative protein investors Blue Horizon Corporation and big four firm PwC, has revealed the environmental footprint of different meat categories and the scale of impact that a plant-based shift would have on the planet. By 2030, if the entire world replaces 10% of meat consumption with plant-based alternatives, we could save 176 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, free up 38 million hectares of land and slash 8.6 billion cubic metres of water use.
To visualise this impact, this would translate to carbon emissions equivalent to 2.7 billion trees, an area of land larger than Germany, and enough water to supply every single person in the state of New York for five years. These figures were calculated by measuring the environmental impacts of chicken, egg, pork, and beef production impacts across geographies and farming systems, and then comparing these impacts to plant-based protein substitutes.
On average, across all animal agriculture product categories, greenhouse gas emissions accounted for a third of its footprint. Land use accounted for half, while water consumption made up the smallest proportion of its environmental impact.
The PwC-Blue Horizon study also monetised the related costs of these environmental harms. On average, one kilogram of conventionally produced beef mince equates to environmental costs of around US$7.26. By contrast, the cost of its plant-based counterpart is far lower at US$0.48 per one kilogram.
This study provides detailed and robust information about the true price of consumption of animal proteins and their vegetable alternatives. This work is an important step in helping people to understand how the decisions we make about our protein consumption impact our environment.Björn Witte, CEO of Blue Horizon
Although the price gap for other meats such as chicken and pork is smaller, it is still significant. The environmental cost of conventional poultry, for instance, stands at US$1.66, while its plant-based version is US$0.30. For pork, the difference is US$0.72 versus US$0.21.
“This study provides detailed and robust information about the true price of consumption of animal proteins and their vegetable alternatives,” said Björn Witte, CEO of Blue Horizon, the firm that has backed multiple big name food techs, such as plant-based chicken nugget makers Alpha Foods and Clara Foods, the U.S. company using fermentation technology to replicate eggs without chickens.
“This work is an important step in helping people to understand how the decisions we make about our protein consumption impact our environment. In addition, it enables investors to better assess the market opportunities in the food 4.0 sector.”
These findings support the bed of research that has repeatedly indicated the importance of shifting away from traditional meat and dairy in order to build a more sustainable food system. A recent Greenpeace report, for instance, finds that when the impact of livestock feed is taken into account, livestock in Europe are emitting more greenhouse gases annually than all the cars and vans in the bloc combined.
Another study conducted by nonprofit EAT revealed that increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts and lowering consumption of meat and dairy will be the most crucial steps for G20 states to take to reduce their footprint. According to their analysis, if everybody in these states switched to a flexitarian diet, as much as 40% of the global carbon budget could be freed up.
Lead image courtesy of Pure Farmland Co.