A switch to plant protein may restore ‘fundamentally broken’ food system

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/Blackregis
© iStock/Blackregis

Related tags: Agriculture

A shift to plant protein as a replacement for animal protein is “desperately needed” as the UK’s food system is “fundamentally broken”, according to the Vegan Society.

The warnings come as the charity group publish a new report, which believes the UK’s food system is environmentally unsustainable and unhealthy.

The Grow Green II​ report, written by the New Economics Foundation, also urges the government to rethink the UK agricultural system as the country prepares to leave the European Union.

Such preparatory measures include the introduction of a farmed animal tax and a Protein Aid Scheme for those who grow plant protein crops such as peas, beans and lentils.

The report recommended that Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) programmes post-2020 should offer schemes designed to support farmers interested in transitioning from livestock farming to protein crops production for human consumption.

UK’s excess meat consumption

“'We are working in various ways to bring about vegan-friendly policy making​,” said Louise Davies, Vegan Society’s head of campaigns and policy.

“Encouraging more plant protein agriculture, and a move away from animal agriculture, would be a step towards the vegan future that the animals and our planet so desperately need.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UK currently consumes an average of around 50% more protein than recommended in a healthy diet.

The report suggests reduction of meat, dairy, eggs and fish consumption be accompanied by an increase in protein crop production for human consumption

The group pointed to the UK climate, which provides good conditions for growing plant proteins such as fava beans, peas, hemp seed or sweet lupin.

“However, the UK currently assigns only 16% of its agricultural land to growing protein crops, much of which are used to feed farmed animals,”​ the report highlighted.

“Those crops could serve as substitutes for meat and dairy products and provide carbon savings, as well offering many health benefits for the UK population.”

Hemp and fava beans

Hemp and fava beans are two examples that illustrate the benefits of plant protein sources with regard to the environment, as well as farmers’ livelihoods.

Hemp is considered one of the most sustainable crops, being a highly efficient CO2 reducer. It requires relatively low fertilizer, herbicides or pesticide inputs as well as needing little water, land and maintenance.

Likewise, fava beans add essential nitrogen to soil as well as provide food to beneficial insects. Its nutrition profile shows it is high in protein, fibre and vitamins. They are also relatively inexpensive to produce.

“Encouraging more plant protein agriculture, and a move away from animal agriculture, would be a step towards the vegan future that the animals and our planet so desperately need,” ​added Davies.

Griffin Carpenter, senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation, said: “Our research shows that to supply British diets with food that is sustainable, healthy, affordable, and ethical, protein crops represent a win-win-win-win across all four dimensions.

“With a major shakeup to farming policy on the horizon, now is the time to create new programmes and incentives for the development of protein crops.”

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1 comment

Fundamentally broken?

Posted by Mary,

What does that mean? Vegans must accept that there is a very wide variety of food intake and that's how it should be. Preaching about veganism is as bad as preaching about meat-eating.

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