By 2050, there is projected to be nearly 10 billion people on earth, about 3 billion more mouths to feed than there were in 2010, requiring 56% more food produced than today. Population growth, as well as changing global diets, have doubled global meat consumption since 1960 and are projected to double again by 2050. As incomes rise in developing economies, societies have increasingly consumed more resource-intensive, animal-based foods. But from an environmental perspective, is the true cost of meat being factored in?
The world’s 1.5 billion livestock produce 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane, a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide (CO2) that warms the planet more rapidly, with a negative effect on the climate 23 times higher than the effect of CO2.
Further, raising livestock:
- consumes one-third of all freshwater used globally and…
- is responsible for 80% of global deforestation as a result of clearing lands to grow feed or for grazing.
Today more than one-third of the world’s arable land is used to grow livestock feed, predominantly non-biodiverse areas of corn and soybeans. And 70% of that global soybean (and 40% of corn) crop production is used to feed livestock.
Whilst there have long been people who ate no (or less) meat for a range of cultural, ethical or health reasons, concern for the environmental impact of meat has been on the rise. A drive to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the world, alongside increased awareness of the conversion of forests to agricultural land, have consumers, investors and the food industry seeking alternatives.
And alternatives are a growing industry. The sale of plant-based meat alternatives in restaurants (including Burger King and Dunkin Donuts) has quadrupled. Mainstream food industry companies such as Kellogg, Nestle, Yum Brands and General Mills as well as start-ups like Impossible Foods are adapting rapidly to increasing demand for meatless products. Indeed, one of 2019’s most successful IPOs was for plant-based meat alternative producer Beyond Meat.
So far, North America represents the largest share of the global plant-based protein market, although Europe and Asia-Pacific are growing quickly. Adoption has been driven by a number of causes, including increasing concerns over meat and the environment; growing preference for meat alternatives and technological advancements in food.
In a world in which a third of all food produced globally goes to waste, it is not just the type of food we are consuming, but how we also optimize consumption, which is being re-evaluated. As we look ahead to 2020 and the forecasts and projections for the coming challenges of the next few decades, the ability to manage our resources will be a primary driver for building a sustainable world. Whether it’s an ethical consideration, or an efficiency one, thinking about alternatives for food production will be an increasingly important area of focus – alongside other key environmental consumption factors – over the coming years.