Carbon and water footprint
Researchers warn that diets that are high in meat are the most harmful to the environment. Food production is a decisive factor in the future of our climate and, if handled incorrectly, it may lead to irreversible disastrous consequences, leaving us, for example, with no freshwater reserves (since 70 per cent of its usage can be attributed to agriculture). Food production is also responsible for 37 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and data shows that 40% of the Earth’s surface (if we exclude oceans and ice cover) is taken up for pasture and crop cultivation. 90 per cent of this area is used for food production and cattle breeding is the process with the greatest negative environmental impact.
Twice as much meat eaten
According to the IPCC Climate change and Land 2018 report, 80% of all area taken up by agriculture is used for the production of meat, fish, crustaceans, eggs and milk. Researchers stress that this produce fulfils around 40 per cent of the demand for proteins and amounts to 20 per cent of calories consumed globally. In turn, the entire animal farming system, including fodder production, is responsible for 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the food sector. The emissions caused by agricultural production have doubled between 1961 and 2018, and the same trend has been observed in global meat consumption.
While the average daily carbon footprint is around 2.5 kilograms of CO² for a vegan and 3.2 kilograms for a vegetarian, an average meat eater (who consumes 100 grams of meat a day) is responsible for emitting 7 kilograms of carbon dioxide, which is a huge amount in comparison. Most Europeans and North Americans consume over twice as much as the global average of 100 grams. Different kinds of meat amount to varying carbon footprints, but most emissions per kilogram are caused by beef production.
Diet high in meat destroys the planet
Experts underline that our dietary habits are key to the future of our planet. Why is that so? Reduction in animal farming would create hectares of room for reforestation, allow for improving the soil quality and make huge savings of water. A plant-based diet is our chance of healing the planet – the IPCC report shows that a societal shift towards consuming more plant-based products could decrease the area taken up by global agriculture by a staggering 6 million square kilometres (which is twice the area of India). Switching to a fully plant-based diet would “free up” even more land – around 30 million square kilometres according to IPCC.
Meat out of thin air?
Founders of the Air Protein start-up have been working on innovative use of a long-forgotten NASA technology that is capable of transforming carbon dioxide from the air into a product with nutritional values similar to animal protein. How does it work? During one of the experiments carried out in in the 1960s, scientists noticed that microorganisms take part in transforming the CO2 exhaled by the astronauts into nutritional substances.
Air Protein has taken the research further and developed a technology that utilises fermentation caused by microorganisms mixed with a nutritious medium. A product of this chemical process is a substance made up in 80 per cent with protein. This is a great starting point to create artificial meat with a fatty acid make-up identical to beef or poultry, taking into account that according to analysis, the substance developed by Air protein does contain vitamin B12. Moreover, unlike in traditional production methods, no antibiotics are needed to make meat “out of thin air”.
Scientists stress that the health benefits of a plant-based diet are immense and that animal products consumption is a common cause of various diseases within western societies. Research conducted in the USA has shown a strong correlation between meat consumption (red meat in particular) and breast cancer and cervical cancer incidence in women. According to the Lancet report, unhealthy diets (high in calories, processed products and animal products) pose a larger threat to human health than unprotected sex, alcohol, drugs and tobacco combined.