Meat substitutes could combat climate change: Report

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Greenhouse gas, Carbon dioxide

Meat and dairy substitutes could play a major role in cutting global emissions and present opportunities to food companies – but they need marketing investment to attract consumers, says a World Watch report.

The report, written by a current and a former environmental expert at the World Bank, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, argues that the greenhouse gases produced in the lifecycle and supply chain of livestock could be much more extreme than currently thought, accounting for as much as 51 per cent of total emissions. This is far more than the 18 per cent suggested by the Food and Agriculture Organization, or the 24 per cent estimation of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Although they acknowledge that this estimation is “a strong claim that requires strong evidence”, ​they emphasize that if they are right, consuming substitutes for meat and dairy products could have more impact on climate change than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

In particular, they recommend substitution of meat products with alternatives such as soy and seitan (wheat gluten), and dairy products with soy and rice products – not only for environmental benefits, but also so “a food company can produce and market alternatives to livestock products that taste similar, but are easier to cook, less expensive, and healthier, and so are better than livestock products”.

Meat-free marketing

However, the approach often used to market meat-free products, such as recommending one meat-free day a week, “suggests deprivation”​ to consumers, they wrote. “Instead, the campaign should pitch the theme of eating all week long a line of food products that is tasty, easy to prepare, and includes a “superfood,” such as soy, that will enrich their lives.”

The global market for meat and dairy substitutes is potentially “almost as big”​ as the market for livestock products, the report found, and large organic food companies could be in the best position to take advantage of the market opportunity.

“They could significantly scale up production and sales of analogs within a few years at a reasonable capital cost and with an attractive return on investment,” ​it said. “…The analogs clearly generate a small fraction of the GHGs attributable to livestock products. So additional revenues might be captured from the sale of carbon credits for the reduction in GHG emissions achieved by analogs versus livestock products.”

Reviewing direct and indirect sources of GHGs, the authors claim that several major sources linked to livestock production have been overlooked by previous studies, including the CO2 produced by animal respiration, the reduced photosynthesis that can occur when land is converted for grazing, and an underestimation of the global warming impact of methane.

The full report can be accessed here​.

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