COP21 Highlights Needs for Sustainable Proteins

The world climate summit (COP21) has been generally hailed as a success, with countries making commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. However, questions remain on how the food industry will meet the challenges.

The food industry is unique in that it is a cause and victim of climate change.It generates a quarter of all greenhouse gases, with over half from livestock production. Emissions from livestock farming are on par with those from energy and transport. Population growth and dietary changes have led to a substantial rise in meat and dairy consumption over the last two decades.

Agriculture, or food production, is also adversely affected by climate change. Rising global temperatures are creating erratic weather conditions, poor harvests and fluctuating yields. Food insecurity is increasing in many parts of the world. Loss of agricultural land is leading to deforestation, further exacerbating climate change.

Recognising the importance of agriculture, a number of initiatives were introduced at the Lima-Paris Action Agenda at COP21. The initiatives focus on four core areas: soils, food losses & waste, sustainable production methods, as well as livestock farming. The Live Beef Carbon initiative plans to reduce carbon emissions from beef production by 15% over 10 years in some European countries. Although a positive step, the initiative focuses on improved livestock rearing methods, and not consumption.

As will be shown at the Sustainable Foods Summit, the food industry needs to address consumption habits – as well as production methods – if it is to substantially reduce greenhouse emissions. Meat consumption is rising in developing countries as consumers become more affluent. The FAO predicts meat consumption to double by 2050 when the global population is projected to reach 9 billion.

A shift towards sustainable proteins is deemed necessary if the food industry is to lower its environmental impacts. Plant-based proteins are considered part of the solution, with important developments happening in the US, a country with a strong tradition of meat consumption. Investment is pouring into new enterprises that have developed innovative meat and dairy analogues. Hampton Creek has launched egg-less mayonnaise, whilst Beyond Meat has created plant-based chicken strips and beef burgers. Another Californian company Impossible Foods plans to launch a range of plant-based meats and cheeses.

New technologies are also being deployed to create novel sustainable proteins. New Wave Foods is creating shrimps and shark fins from algae-based proteins. Solazyme is using similar technology to produce proteins from algal oil, whilst Qualitas Health is producing omega acids from microalgae.

The private sector is doing its part by introducing sustainable alternatives to meat products. However, such products will only be successful if consumers can be encouraged to purchase and consume them. Some call for government intervention in the form of a meat tax or subsidising plant-based products. Others say education is the solution; most consumers would accept plant-based proteins if they were aware of the ethics and ecology (impacts) of meat production.

Whatever the solution, alternative proteins need to become mainstream if the food industry is to meet the pledges made at COP21.

Sustainable Foods Summit
Regular updates on the environmental impact of foods are given at the Sustainable Foods Summit. This executive summit is now hosted in North & Latin America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific. More details are on the website.

Posted: December 17th 2015

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