Replacing meat with imitations is not enough to ‘solve all problems’

Imitating meat is not that “no panacea to solve all problems”warns the co-chair of the international panel of independent experts IPES-Food and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Olivier de Schutter, one of the authors of the study protein politicspublished in April.

What are the arguments for reducing meat consumption?

“According to United Nations Food and Agriculture (FAO) estimates, the meat sectors represent 14.5% of GHG emissions from human origin, not including deforestation or related waste. 80% of agricultural land is used for fodder production, while animal products represent only 20% of the calories we eat.

It’s an unsustainable situation: we need to get out of industrial livestock sectors and move to less meat-based diets, more plant-based, including protein-rich legumes like lentils or beans.

According to nutritionists, 25 kg of meat per year and per person is sufficient, compared to nearly 100 kg in the United States today. Consumption of processed red meat also increases the risk of gastrointestinal cancers and antibiotic resistance, which will become a major health problem in the coming years.

Should we turn to counterfeit meat products, which mimic meat?

“It all depends on what you put in these substitutes, but it’s not a panacea to solve all problems. Some use raw materials such as wheat, soy, which are very problematic in terms of biodiversity or soil depletion, with additives, preservatives or dyes that are harmful to health.

Highly processed, they may contain binders based on palm oil or soy, which require the addition of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers and lead to the development of large monocultures.

We reject a simplistic view that would say let’s move from farm meat to meat substitutes without changing the food system.

We must encourage sustainable sectors, with animals being pastured and fed grass or hay instead of soybean meal. In an agro-ecological approach, meat has its place as long as the breeding does not take place in a battery or factory. Animal droppings make it possible to have fertile, living soils without adding large amounts of fertilizer.”

Does lab-based meat production get around these obstacles?

As IPCC experts say in their report published in early April, meat production processes in labs are highly energy-intensive. But the sector is developing very quickly, with double-digit growth for four years. Billionaires such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson or major global investment funds such as Black Rock strongly believe in it.

The sector is highly concentrated, with a small number of powerful economic players. When start-ups or small companies want to arise, they are very quickly taken over by giants, such as De Vegetarische Slager from Unilever or Vivera from JBS.

Instead of decentralized production, a source of income for many small farmers, it will benefit a limited number of companies, who will own the technology and the patents.

Even though Europe has traditionally been more cautious about this type of innovation, we can count on rapid and exponential development. Denmark or the Netherlands have just invested millions in these sectors. But aren’t consumers cheated when the environmental benefits of this imitation meat are touted?

The search for alternatives should not exempt us from criticizing the agri-food system. We have to ask ourselves the right questions now, because in five years it will be too late.


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