Eating one-fifth less beef could halve deforestation

Model suggests that switching to microbial ‘meat’ can cut carbon emissions.


Giorgia Guglielmi, Nature

04 May 2022


Replacing just 20% of global beef consumption with a meat substitute within the next 30 years could halve deforestation and the carbon emissions associated with it, finds a modelling study.


The findings, published in Nature on 4 May1, come one month after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that humanity is nowhere near on track to limit global warming to 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels.


Beef farming is a top driver of deforestation worldwide, and cattle raised for beef are a major source of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Replacing beef with meat alternatives could reduce some of the food production’s environmental footprint, but it won’t solve the climate crisis, says study lead author Florian Humpenöder, a sustainability scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “It should not be seen as a silver bullet,” he says.


Previous research has shown that replacing beef with a meatless alternative called mycoprotein can have beneficial effects on the environment. Produced in steel tanks by fermenting a soil-dwelling fungus with glucose and other nutrients as a food source, mycoprotein is a meat substitute that made its debut in the United Kingdom in the 1980s under the brand name Quorn and is now readily available in many countries.


Humpenöder and his colleagues are the first to estimate the environmental effects of partially replacing beef with mycoprotein over time, says Franziska Gaupp, who studies food systems at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Previous analyses didn’t take into account changes in population growth, food demand and other socio-economic factors.


The team used a mathematical model...


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