In addition to significant benefits for the climate, meat-based diet nature and water, switching to sustainable proteins will help Europeans live healthier lives, and policymakers will benefit from lower healthcare costs, writes Nico Musi.
Giving up meat for just two days a week in the EU and UK will have huge benefits for the environment.
This modest shift to a plant-based diet could lead to an impressive 81 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent reduction per year.
This has a comparable impact to removing a quarter – or around 65 million – of all cars from EU and UK roads.
Moreover, since meat production takes up much more farmland than protein crops, this shift will free up an area of land larger than the entire United Kingdom. It will also save 2.2 cubic kilometers of water, which is equivalent to the water consumption of 880,000 swimming pools per year.
We know and can prove it all – all this in the results of a new study by the consulting company Profundo for Madre Brava.
In short, by replacing animal proteins with a blend of whole grain plant proteins and new plant-based meat alternatives, we are making changes that will have an exponential impact on the long-term health and vitality of our planet.
This moderate switch to plant proteins makes sense from a health perspective. Citizens in Europe and the UK currently consume 80% more meat than the global average.
Even more alarmingly, Europeans consume four times more red meat than recommended intake levels, according to health experts from the EAT-Lancet Commission, led by 37 of the world’s leading scientists from 16 countries representing a variety of disciplines, who have identified targets for healthy nutrition and organic food. production.
Switching settings also makes climatic sense. Excessive consumption of animal products plays a significant role in increasing emissions in the EU food sector, which accounts for 70% of all food consumption-related emissions in the bloc.
In addition, meat and dairy production is the largest source of methane emissions in the EU and the most powerful driver of climate change. Unless Brussels tackles livestock emissions, agriculture will become the bloc’s biggest climate-polluting sector by 2040.
What does Europe need?
Climate scientists agree that the only way to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement is to significantly reduce overall meat production and consumption worldwide.
In Europe, the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) examined what the EU agricultural sector would need to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Various scenarios leading to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through a combination of different sustainable farming practices require a reduction in meat consumption in the EU by 75% by 2050 compared to 2010.
Europe needs dietary changes to decarbonize agriculture. The UK and EU therefore need to pay more attention to the protein transition, as well as explore technologies for sustainable intensification and reduction of methane emissions.
The good news is that consumers are slowly but surely joining this path.
The number of Europeans who are reported to be reducing their meat consumption (so-called flexitarians) is growing every year. In some countries (Germany being the most prominent example), meat consumption has been falling steadily over the past five years.
While this is progress, changes in diets are not happening at the pace needed to reduce emissions to the level needed to keep the planet warming within the safe threshold (1.5°C).
Moreover, the responsibility for this transition should not fall on the shoulders of consumers. Systemic problems require systemic solutions.
What is going to happen?
Currently, the meat and dairy industry receives significant subsidies, lower value added taxes, and funding for promotion and advertising, which puts plant-based foods and alternative proteins at a disadvantage.
Subsidies, taxes, government procurement and corporate strategies must be refocused to promote plant-based and alternative proteins, making them the cheapest, healthiest and most convenient option for consumers.
Politicians across Europe must also level the playing field between animal and plant products by ending funding for meat promotion and redistributing taxes towards animal products.
More importantly, the EU must actively introduce new sustainable proteins. As it did with hydrogen and batteries, the European Commission must develop a major investment plan for the emerging new sustainable protein industry to ensure that Europe can lead (not follow) the next food innovation.
Food retailers need to do their part, too. For decades, the food industry has played a significant role in shaping consumer attitudes and preferences.
So, it’s only fitting that the food industry takes a leading role in promoting better and more affordable choices of legumes, vegetables, whole grains and alternative proteins.
The first steps have already begun: some supermarkets in Germany and the Netherlands have set themselves the goal of increasing the share of plant-based proteins in their overall protein portfolio. We need more ambition and more supermarkets in other European countries to follow suit.
Who benefits from going plant-based?
In addition to significant benefits for the climate, nature and water, switching to sustainable proteins will help Europeans live healthier lives, and policymakers will benefit from lower healthcare costs.
Most importantly, switching to a plant-based diet can also provide more income and improve the living conditions of EU farmers.
If, on top of that, the EU decides to pursue new sustainable proteins, the bloc could build an entirely new economic sector, creating thousands of new jobs.
European governments and food retailers must play a catalytic role in ensuring that sustainable proteins are the cheapest, healthiest and easiest choice for consumers when shopping in grocery stores.