New Delhi, September 13
Replacing half the animal products we eat with plant-based alternatives may reduce agricultural and land-use greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 31 per cent by 2050, and halt the degradation of forest and natural land, according to a study.
The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, shows that additional climate and biodiversity benefits could accrue from reforesting land spared from livestock production when meat and milk products are substituted by plant-based alternatives, more than doubling the climate benefits and halving future declines of ecosystem integrity by 2050.
The restored area could contribute up to 25 per cent of the estimated global land restoration needs under Target 2 of the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework by 2030.
The study is the first to look at the global food security and environmental impacts of plant-based meat and milk consumption at large scales that considers the complexity of food systems.
The team, including researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, engaged researchers at Impossible Foods – a company that develops plant-based substitutes for meat products – as a potential user of the data to ensure relevance and to address this gap in existing literature.
The company also provided hypothetical recipes for the plant-based meat substitute products used in the analysis, the researchers said.
The data are however, by design, not specific to Impossible Foods and the science team had complete control over decision making, they said.
“Understanding the impacts of dietary shifts expands our options for reducing GHG emissions. Shifting diets could also yield huge improvements for biodiversity,” said study lead author Marta Kozicka, a researcher in the IIASA Biodiversity and Natural Resources Programme.
“Plant-based meats are not just a novel food product, but a critical opportunity for achieving food security and climate goals while also achieving health and biodiversity objectives worldwide. Yet, such transitions are challenging and require a range of technological innovations and policy interventions,” said study coauthor Eva Wollenberg from Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and the University of Vermont, Canada.
The researchers developed scenarios of dietary changes based on plant-based recipes for beef, pork, chicken, and milk. The recipes were designed to be nutritionally equivalent to the original animal-derived protein products and realistic for the existing food manufacturing capabilities and globally available production ingredients.
They found that a 50 per cent substitution scenario would substantially reduce the mounting impacts of food systems on the natural environment by 2050 compared to the reference scenario.
The full environmental benefit of diet shifts can be achieved if the agricultural land spared from livestock and feed production is restored through biodiversity-minded afforestation, according to the researchers.
In the 50 per cent scenario, the benefits from reduced land-use emissions could double as compared to a scenario without afforestation, they said.
The restoration of forest ecosystems would also improve biodiversity, the researchers said.
The 50 per cent scenario would reduce predicted declines in ecosystem integrity by more than half, while the 90 per cent scenario could reverse biodiversity loss between 2030 and 2040, they added.
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