A stir-fry of mycoprotein instead of beef can cut carbon emissions significantly. Photo: © DronG / Shutterstock.com
Fungi-based meat alternatives can stop deforestation
If 20 per cent of global consumption of meat from ruminants is replaced by microbial protein by 2050, it would be enough to stop the expansion of pastures and the deforestation that would result from increased food demand, according to a recently published analysis from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Related CO2 emissions would roughly halve.
“The reduced numbers of cattle do not only reduce the pressure on land but also reduce methane emissions from the rumen of cattle and nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizing feed or manure management,” says lead author Florian Humpenöder.
Microbial protein is a meat alternative produced in fermentation tanks using sugar as feedstock.
“There are broadly three groups of meat analogues,” Isabelle Weindl, co-author, explains. “There are plant-based ones like soybean burger patties, and animal cells grown in a petri dish also known as cultured meat, which is so far very expensive but got a lot of public attention recently. And there’s fermentation-derived microbial protein, which we consider most interesting. It is available in a large variety already today in supermarkets, for example in the UK or in Switzerland, and, importantly, it can be largely decoupled from agricultural production. Our results show that even accounting for the sugar as feedstock, microbial protein requires much less agricultural land compared to ruminant meat for the same protein supply.”
The authors see microbial protein as a promising substitute but raise some reservations about energy use in production. “A large-scale transformation towards biotech food requires a large-scale decarbonisation of electricity generation so that the climate protection potential can be fully developed,” co-author Alexander Popp adds. “Yet if we do this properly, microbial protein can help meat-lovers embrace the change. It can really make a difference.”
PIK Press release 4 May 2022 https://www.pik-potsdam.de/en/news/latest-news/fungi-based-meat-alternat...
Article in Nature https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04629-w