Resources hot topic cluster: Animal Proteins & Substitutes (2022 May)

Summary of key points in this cluster:
– Increased Interest – Animal proteins & substitutes have been a hot topic in relation to both health of humans and Earth. The products have proliferated over the years, some achieving improvements in health of humans and Earth, and others not.

Learn – Systems vary greatly for different animal proteins & substitutes, some are sustainable, some are not. This leaves some work for consumers to make choices based on what they can learn about the different options. Nutrition professionals can help.

Diversity – There is a huge diversity of animal & plant proteins in the world from water, land, and air. Learn about and encourage diversity, especially species indigenous to your area.

Balance & Track – Balance animals & plants in the environment and other parts of the food system (Production – Markets – Consumption). Whenever there is an imbalance, symptoms emerge that need to be fixed.
The SFS Toolkit also has a:
– Discussion group dedicated to The Politics of Protein.
– Guide on balanced diet & environment see the 2019 EAT-Lancet report on Healthy Diets from SFS.

Recent articles in the ICDA SFS Toolkit:

The politics of protein: examining claims about livestock, fish, ‘alternative proteins’ and sustainability. (2022 Apr) – They recommend 3 approaches for how to move beyond misleading and oversimplified claims to support meaningful change in sustainable protein-source foods. 1) Shift the focus from ‘protein transition’ to sustainable food system transition and sustainable food policies, 2) Prioritize reform pathways that deliver on all aspects of sustainability, starting at the territorial level (measure what matters, where it matters), and 3) Reclaim public resources from ‘big protein’, realign innovation pathways with the public good, and reset the debate.

WWF Consumer Meat Guides for the Baltic Region (2021) – By eating less but environmentally better meat and choosing more plant-based protein, you as a consumer can contribute to more sustainable meat consumption. These meat guides try to help consumers contribute to more sustainable meat consumption by making wise food choices that take into account nature, climate and animal welfare.

Plant-Based Meat and Dairy Substitutes as Appropriate Alternatives to Animal-Based Products? (2020) – The authors of this commentary argue that we need a greater knowledge, including the degree of processing, the nutrient profile of the individual foods, and the dietary patterns within which they are consumed. They also call for more research on the health and environmental impacts, as well as research instruments to examine these questions.  

A social cost-benefit analysis of meat taxation and a fruit and vegetables subsidy for a healthy and sustainable food consumption in the Netherlands (2020 May) – This study uses a social cost-benefit analysis to estimate the impacts of three scenarios – a 15% and 30% tax on meat, and a 10% subsidy on fruit and vegetable consumption – for the year 2048 (30 years hence) in the Netherlands. The authors conclude that any of the three scenarios could decrease chronic disease prevalence and healthcare costs, improve mortality rates, improve quality of life, and lead to higher productivity levels. They also estimate costs savings from environmental benefits as well as combined environmental and health benefits to society and financial benefits.

Plant-based meat substitutes in the flexitarian age: an audit of products on supermarket shelves (2019 Oct) – There are a wide range of ingredients in these products, and they are not necessarily similar to, or healthier than meat.  Guidance needs to be provided to consumers about creating healthy plant-based diets. This lack of nutritional equivalence with similar meat products could be especially problematic for those who may already not have enough of some key nutrients.  

Climate Impacts of Cultured Meat and Beef Cattle (2019 Feb) – Cultured meat does not necessarily have less impact on global warming than cattle. The impact varies dependent on the production system of different ways cultured meat is produced and on different systems of producing beef.

Reducing GHG emissions while improving diet quality: exploring the potential of reduced meat, cheese and alcoholic and soft drinks consumption at specific moments during the day (2018 Feb) – The results illustrate that for this group of respondents with high diet related GHG emissions, reducing red and processed meat intake (even if only at dinner time) and reducing soft and alcoholic drink consumption throughout the day would lead to reduced diet related GHG emissions.  

Comparative analysis of environmental impacts of agricultural production systems, agricultural input efficiency, and food choice (2017) – The results illustrate that environmental impacts of agricultural production systems are different depending on which systems, food, and environmental indicators are examined. The difference in environmental impacts between foods of different types is large compared to the difference between the same foods produced using different systems. For all environmental indicators and nutritional units assessed, plant-based foods have the lowest environmental impacts – even when analyzed per kilocalorie of food produced.  Systems should integrate the benefits of both systems to develop more sustainable agriculture (e.g., organic’s lower use of chemical inputs, and higher yields in conventional systems). 

Meat alternatives: life cycle assessment of most known meat substitutes (2015) – This article compares the environmental impacts of different meat substitutes. Multiple environmental impacts were measured, and assessed by weight (kilograms), energy (kilojoules) and protein (grams). The authors estimated impacts from the stage of raw resources to (including) consumer use.  One of the key objectives of meat substitutes is to lower environmental impact compared to that of livestock. Across all three measures, lab grown meat and myco-protein based foods (fungus/ mushroom) had the highest impacts. After this, results depended on the unit of measurement (weight, energy, protein). The authors report that the best performers were insect and soya-based substitutes and chicken (although chicken ranked more poorly when measured by weight).