The need for dramatic action to address climate change only grows in urgency. Nick Hazell, chair of the Alternative Proteins Council and CEO/founder of v2food, looks at changes needed in the global food system and its role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, climate change is here and already impacting every corner of the world. What’s even scarier is that if we fail to halve greenhouse gas emissions and scale up adaptation this decade, there are much more severe impacts in store for us.
Look at it this way. The global aviation industry produces 2.5 per cent of the global carbon emissions.
The global food system however, produces 35 per cent of the global carbon emissions, with over a half (57 per cent) of these emissions coming from the production of animal-based foods, including meat, poultry, dairy products, growing crops to feed livestock, and pastures for grazing.
Food production (including on-farm production, and post-farm processes such as processing, and distribution) is responsible for around 26 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
With the world forecasted to reach 10 billion people by 2050, it’s more important than ever for us to find ways to create change and shape a sustainable future. Recent events including the federal election have highlighted that Australia is now hyper-sensitive to the climate change problem, how can we address these concerns throughout society?
Our view of food must change
Food is one of the easiest ways we can make this happen. Producers and retailers form a major part of this change, having both a responsibility andopportunity to be part of the solution.
With sustainability now a key pillar of retailer strategies, plant based proteins provide a viable solution to reduce total emissions and work towards net carbon zero.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Australia’s average meat consumption alone hits 129 kilograms per person, per year, creating a global average of over four tonnes of annual carbon emissions.
We need to re-evaluate and do it fast.
Supplying this increased demand with declining natural resources, in a more volatile climate, is not feasible in the long run. Addressing the global food system is the neglected pillar of sustainability and climate change – and one we don’t talk about enough.
The planet can’t support billions of meat-eaters. Switching to a plant-based meat option is one of the most powerful, yet simple measures, you can take to reduce the impact on our climate.
While the greenhouse gas emissions from Australia’s red meat industry have fallen by 57per cent since 2005, in 2018 it still contributed 63 million tonnes of CO2e.
In comparison, plant-based proteins have the lowest carbon footprint of all protein categories. For example, CSIRO’s life cycle assessment of v2food in 2021, found that producing a kilogram of plant-based v2 product only emits 2.2 kilograms CO2e. To get the same amount of meat from beef, emissions would be nearly 45 times higher at 99.48kilograms CO2e.
Solving the problem is easier than we think
In order to meet our climate targets, we need to first and foremost, change the way we view food; a reduction in meat consumption is essential if we are to achieve these targets.
However, there are barriers to success. Our brains are hardwired to like meat, we’ve been craving and eating it for thousands of years. On top of this, questions about nutrition, costs, taste and cooking methods are consistently prevalent. As a society, we’ve framed the problem to be harder than it actually is, with plant-based companies having solved a number of these problems already.
Companies have worked hard to match all the good stuff from traditional proteins like beef, chicken and pork, with less of the bad (lower saturated fats, no cholesterol) with the added bonus of natural fibre.
With the price of animal meat on the rise due to inflation, plant-based meat is the perfect alternative, with it coming in at either the same price as what meat used to be, or even cheaper.
Using cutting edge science to analyse what makes meat taste so good, many of the plant-based companies have found the same components in plants to replicate the meaty taste we crave.
With it looking and tasting likemeat, plant-based alternatives have been created in such a way they can easily slot into classic family recipes, whether it be bolognese, a burger, or schnitzel.
Even if Aussies made one simple switch a week, the planetary benefit would be substantial. To put it into perspective, if a family of four switched from beef, to v2 bolognese just once a week, they could save annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking a car off the road.
What’s in it for retailers?
With the global sustainability problem only growing every day, we all need to do our part to help our struggling planet, however right now, we’re not doing enough. As more Aussies make conscious efforts to do better for the planet, there is a major opportunity here for retailers to be part of the solution.
Plant-based proteins are reaching a position where it canexist as a legitimate source of protein on the average Aussie’s plate.
A YouGov survey conducted by v2food highlighted changing consumer attitudes with 87 per cent of Aussies wanting to buy more ethical and sustainable products, and 63 per cent prepared to try plant-based if it tastes good.
With plant-based alternatives being created in a way that consumers can make quick and easy switches with products, and no change to the way a dish tastes or needs to be cooked, retailers are presented with the ability to lead the way in sustainable protein, whilst delivering against financial and sustainability KPIs.