Meat industry forecasts of rising demand are being challenged by new reports that see the future of animal-derived proteins as limited to bleak.
Several signs of slowing consumption are listed in the first report, presented to the September 23rd UN Climate Action Summit in New York. A second report, published the same month, predicts the US cattle industry will be decimated by direct competition from precision fermented foods made from micro-organisms.
Describing global food production as the “single largest human pressure on Earth”, the report presented to the UN documents shifts away from meat in Europe, the US, and China. Entitled Exponential Roadmap: Scaling 36 Solutions To Halve Emissions by 2030, the report is backed by the World Wildlife Fund and Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson, among others.
Starting in the US, it points to research showing about 60% of Americans cutting back on meat products, along with a steep drop of 19% in beef consumption between 2005 and 2014.
More recent figures from the Agricultural Economic Insight website, show beef-eating ticking back up from a low of 54 pounds per capita in 2014, to 57 pounds in 2017. It’s a far cry though from the 1970s and 1980s when Americans ate almost 80 pounds per capita.
Turning to the UK, the report said a recent survey shows 28% of meat-eaters reducing consumption, while Sweden may have reached ‘peak meat’. Separate reports from Swedish public broadcaster, SVT, show consumption falling almost 5% from 87.7 kilos of total animal meat per capita in 2016 to 83.5 kilos in 2018. Although not in the report, the latest official figures from the world’s fourth-largest beef exporter, Ireland, show total meat consumption dropping 2% to 86 kilos per capita in 2017, from 88 kilos in 2016.
More dramatically, the report says China’s government aims to halve meat consumption by 2030. Given that the country consumes almost 30% of the world’s meat, that could mean a 12% drop in global agricultural emissions.
As the title suggests, the report offers 36 solutions that, if implemented, should halve emissions by 2030 in six focus areas: energy, industry, digital industry, buildings, transport, and food consumption.
Top of the food solutions list is plant-centric eating. Using the EAT-Lancet Commission’s Healthy Reference Diet (first published in the Food in the Anthropocene report released in January this year), as a baseline, the Exponential report suggests a variation called the Planetary Health Diet. This allows up to four servings of animal-protein a week and is “most closely associated with a flexitarian diet.” If 40% of the global population switched to the Planetary style diets by 2030, and 75% by 2050, total food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could stay within the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C.
If not, based on current trends, food-related emissions are expected to crash through the planetary boundary for food of 5.0 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, reaching 9.8 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050. CO2 equivalent is roughly explained as the CO2 concentration that would cause the same climate problems as a range of GHG gasses including methane and nitrous oxide.
Other solutions include updating national dietary guidelines to encourage plant-based foods. This is exactly what happened in Canada earlier this year, which most notably removed dairy as a special category, grouping it with other proteins including nuts, soy, and beans. The move was condemned by the Dairy Farmers of Canada who said the revised guidelines would be “detrimental to the long-term health of future generations … leading them to erroneously think dairy products are unhealthy.” A similar update to the UK’s guidelines in 2016 prompted similar dairy pushback.
On a bolder tack, another report sees 50% of America’s cattle disappearing by 2030. Other livestock industries will suffer a similar fate due to rapid advances in micro-organism (cells, yeasts, bacteria, and fungi) fermentation to produce milk, meat and other proteins outside the macro animal organism.
Written by technology disruption think tank, RethinkX, the report’s title is long but self-explanatory: Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020-2030: The Second Domestication of Plants and Animals, the Disruption of the Cow, and the Collapse of Industrial Livestock Farming. As the most inefficient and economically vulnerable part of this system, it said, cattle farming will be the first to feel the modern food’s disruptive power.
“Cows are constrained by biology and economics,” said RethinkX co-founder and report co-author, Tony Seba. “The conventional industrial food production system has as much chance of competing with modern foods as cuneiform clay tablets have of competing with modern computer tablets.”
By 2030, it said, micro-organism foods will be healthier, less wasteful, more convenient and cost far less to produce as animal equivalents.
Original source: https://sentientmedia.org