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GREEN MEAT: To avert a climate crisis, governments need to reinvent meat

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Governments need to significantly invest in research aimed at accelerating the progress of plant-based and cultivated meat. This strategic approach is working for renewable energy, and it can work for food too.

SCMP: As governments strive to achieve bold national climate goals, vast amounts of money are being allocated to boost mass transit systems and conduct research and development for cleaner energy alternatives. But there’s one carbon-spewing sector that remains ripe for reinvention: the meat we eat. If nations don’t invest in its transformation, we risk negating the climate progress being made elsewhere.

A bold new report co-authored by United Nations senior adviser Dr Albert T. Lieberg, and produced with support from The Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, illustrates how accelerating global demand for meat and dairy products is heavily contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and putting immense pressure on natural resources, contributing to land degradation, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water pollution and water scarcity.

The report, titled The Need for Change, reveals that in the 30-year span between 1989 and 2019, global meat production nearly doubled, from 174 to 337 million tonnes, driven in large part by emerging economies. The most substantial growth in meat consumption per capita has occurred in East and Southeast Asia, particularly in China… In that same time period, global milk production also rose from 537 million tonnes to 883 million tonnes…

These dramatic increases have manifold negative impacts on our planet. Beef production is the top driver of deforestation globally, with cattle ranching directly associated with 80 per cent of current Amazon deforestation. Animal-based agriculture is responsible for up to a third of all fresh water consumption in the world, far surpassing the amount used for industrial, municipal, or household purposes.

Global greenhouse gas emissions by the livestock sector alone exceed emissions by all cars, trains, ships and planes in the world combined, and contribute more than the overall emissions of the United States. In short, the ambitious climate targets that are needed to avert environmental catastrophe are not achievable without global dietary change…

Without immediate action to change that trajectory, nations risk not only depleting their finite natural resources, but also increasing the risk of breeding zoonotic diseases, which contribute to widespread illness and food supply disruptions… Fortunately for us all, technological innovation has brought humanity to the threshold of a new food production era, which has the potential to dramatically reduce the climate and public health risks associated with animal farming.

The latest generation of innovative plant-based proteins – like those produced by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods – deliver the same flavours and culinary experience that meat-eating consumers are used to, with zero chance of causing a pandemic. Similarly, cultivated meat, which is grown directly from animal cells, rather than conventional farming, eliminates the risk of zoonotic disease by divorcing meat production from industrial animal agriculture…

A shift towards plant-based and cultivated meat wouldn’t just make nations less prone to outbreaks, it would also free up vast amounts of land and other resources that are currently being squandered. Research shows that producing a plant-based burger can emit 90 per cent less greenhouse gases, require 99 per cent less water, 46 per cent less energy, and 93 per cent less land compared with a quarter pound of US beef…

To drive down costs to consumers and stimulate economic development more broadly, governments need to significantly invest in open-access research aimed at accelerating the progress of plant-based and cultivated meat… This strategic approach is working for renewable energy, and it can work for food too. By using public funds to reduce consumption of conventional, resource-intensive meat and dairy, in favour of more nutrient-dense and sustainable alternatives, nations can contribute to a necessary global shift and preserve life on this planet for future generations. SOURCE…

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