Plant-based meat alternatives are a critical discussion point in recent times given animal agriculture is a, if not the, biggest contributor to environmental destruction and the climate crisis. This article highlights the problem of animal agriculture, a snapshot of the research showing the association between meat consumption and chronic health problems with references for further reading, and a summary of the role that plant-based meats play in the global picture of reversing climate change and improving health outcomes, for humans and for the planet at large.
Why is Animal Agriculture the Problem?
To refresh your memory on why animal products are a, if not the leading contributor to climate change, read our previously published articles on Climate Change and our Food System and An Evidence-Based Diet to Combat Climate Change. To recap, from a global perspective, leading scientists across the globe agree that to contain runaway climate change, we must contain global warming below a 1.5°C rise while we aggressively reduce and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and methane. As animal agriculture is predicted to be responsible for more than 24% of all global greenhouse gas emissions alone, without consideration of the indirect environmental strain of water pollution, excessive water usage, biodiversity destruction, transportation, and the ramifications of the spreading of diseases. It therefore appears widely agreed that;
- In order to slow down, and then reverse climate change, we must change the majority of our food sources to primarily plants on a mass scale.
- The most impactful individual choice to reduce our personal environmental footprint is to significantly reduce or eliminate animal products from our diet, beef especially.
- Every single person is not going to volunteer to transition to an entirely plant-based vegan, therefore more sustainable meat and dairy alternatives that satisfy taste, flavour and our perception of needing ‘meat protein’ successfully satisfy the growing demand for meat and dairy.
Meat Consumption and Chronic Health Problems
Some people are not motivated by helping the environment, but most people inherently care about the health and longevity of themselves and their family. Clinical and medical research has shown the health benefits of adopting a primarily plant-based diet, and links between meat and dairy consumption with a range of acute and chronic health problems. Over recent years, the biases of meat and dairy consumption in the clinical data have been largely exposed due contradictory funding bodies that come from the meat and dairy giants. Over the last decade, research has repetitively concluded that their findings demonstrated;
- Red meat consumption is linked to a number of chronic diseases. For example, in a study of over 500,000 participants published in the British Medical Journal, risk of death from cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, infections, kidney disease, liver disease or lung disease all increased with the amount of meat consumed, and those people with the highest meat intake doubled their chances of dying from chronic liver disease.
- A primarily plant-based diet and healthy lifestyle is good for brain health and longevity. Leading neurologists and researchers, Dr Ayesha and Dr Dean Sherzai published a book called The Alzheimer’s Solution, reporting on their research findings that 90% of all Alzheimer’s cases can be prevented, and for the 10% with a strong genetic risk for cognitive decline, the disease can be delayed for ten to fifteen years. With over 47 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease, these revelations are ground-breaking.
- As obesity continues to rise in both children and adults, Dr Michael Gregor writes on the research in his new book, How Not To Diet, discussing how the foods that we eat affect our health and longevity, breaking down the key elements of ideal and healthy weight loss, showing how “evidence-based eating” is crucial to our health success.
Are Plant-Based Meats the Solution?
If we could snap our fingers, and have the whole world thriving on a mostly whole-food plant-based diet, perhaps plant-based meats would not be necessary. However, to our earlier point, this is not entirely realistic and progressive companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger know this. They are not necessarily catering for people who are already plant-based – although we will still enjoy their products – they are catering for meat lovers. There are a percentage of the population who may want to improve their health, and the environmental crisis, however, just cannot imagine their live without meat being the hero of their meal and taste buds. That is where plant-based meat alternatives become the necessary solution as they tread much lighter on environmental strain;
- Researchers from Quantis conducted an environmental life cycle analysis comparing meat from a cow and Impossible Foods plant-based meat, finding that plant-based meat used 96% less land (reducing deforestation and the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems), 87% less water, produced 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions globally, and 92% less dead-zone nutrition pollution compared to beef from cows.
- Researchers at The Centre for Sustainable Solutions at the University of Michigan conducted a life cycle assessment and detailed comparison between a plant-based and animal-based protein source. They concluded that compared to animal-based protein, beyond meat protein used 99% less water, 93% less land, 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and 46% less energy.
- Plant-based meats are possible through plants + science. They are on a mission to rapidly surpass all nutritional compounds in animal-based meat, including protein, heme iron, fat, minerals, carbohydrates and water. Beyond Meat report their products contain no gluten, soy or GMO’s. Impossible Foods contain soy, and educate on the misconceptions surrounding soy that we have published on. Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are free of animal hormones, antibiotics, cholesterol and contaminants.
- Plant-based meats have been criticised for their salt/sodium contents to taste and preserve. They ultimately still are a processed and packaged food. The question may not be whether they are the healthiest form of food available, but rather, are they healthier than their animal-based red meat alternative? They are undeniably significantly healthier for the environment, thus perhaps still fall into the ‘sometimes’ category to satisfy meat cravings and pleasure while transitioning to a diet that is largely based upon whole plant-based food that is unprocessed. This is common sense.
In conclusion, there is a need and market for plant-based alternatives, of the highest quality across markers including taste, texture and nutritional content. Without such products, we would struggle to urgently transition from animal to plant-based products as the bulk of our food system. The solution to climate change is multifaceted, but such mission-based companies have an integral role and we appreciate their commitment that we believe, will only be sincerely recognised for their value down the track. As reported by Impossible, “to safely, securely and sustainably feed another 2 billion citizens of Earth, we need to transform demand for farmed animals into demand for meat, dairy and fish from plants – whether they’re Impossible or not”.
Photo credit: The featured image was sourced from Beyond Meat.