Bill Gates made headlines earlier this year saying “All rich countries should go for 100% synthetic cows” in an interview with the MIT Technology Review about the release of its new book How to Avoid Climate Disaster. While acknowledging the political difficulty for Americans to eat more red meat, Gates said he sees real potential in plant-based alternatives in companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
However, the world is expected to eat more meat than ever before in 2021. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that global meat consumption will increase More than 1% this year. It will be the fastest growing country in low- and middle-income countries as incomes are steadily rising.
However, it is unlikely that this trend will move people’s tastes away from meat. After public health campaigns in the US, per capita beef consumption has dropped significantly but still it remains higher than in almost any other country.
Instead, politicians and environmental groups should strive to develop alternative sources of protein and low-impact methods of livestock production. Innovation in both of these areas will give us the best way to quickly reduce the environmental impact of agriculture so that people can eat what they want.
Meat substitutes can only take us so far
Gates is right that alternative meats can alleviate some of the problems involved in raising animals. The carbon footprint of plant meat is smaller than that of cows and pigs and is comparable to that of chicken and other poultry. The carbon footprint of cell-processed meat (also called cultured, laboratory-grown, or cell-based meat) is still unclear, but first evidence suggests that this food source will use less carbon than meat and could be comparable to chicken. if clean energy is produced.
There are other benefits as well. Alternative meat generally reduces land use and deforestation, protects biodiversity, creates less air and water pollution, alleviates antibiotic resistance and the risks of zoonotic pandemics, reduces public health burdens associated with red meat consumption, and reduces animal welfare concerns.
However, alternative meats like Sausage and Impossible burger can moderately reduce livestock production. There are simply no plant-based or cell-based substitutes that taste, look and feel like cut meat like pork chops or loin. These whole cuts make up a large part of meat consumption. In the US, for example, there are complete restrictions about 40% of cow consumption and most of the chicken that people eat.
Public- and the private sector investments in alternative meats can encourage the development of whole-cut alternatives. Countries like Canada, Singapore and Israel have already earmarked government funds for this research. Although alternative proteins are still relatively new, early success suggests that they can have a positive long-term impact, mainly because technological advances reduce prices and improve quality.