World Economic Forum White Paper: “Plant-based Meat Alternatives Could Save Lives”

The World Economic Forum has released a new report, detailing the urgency of “integrating more plant-based protein alternatives into the world’s diet in order to significantly improve human health and environmental sustainability.”

The white paper, titled “Meat: the Future series, Alternative Proteins,” notes that meat consumption is growing exponentially, especially in developing countries, noting Asia and China in particular. It describes that, if the current rate of growth continues on this course until 2050, when the world’s population is projected to reach ten billion, the pathway will  be “incompatible with keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 (let alone 1.5) degrees Celsius.”

The study, which was prepared by the Oxford Martin School, Oxford University for the World Economic Forum’s Meat: the Future dialogue series, discusses numerous “narratives” which exist in relation to the place of meat in our culture, and to its alternatives.

Key notes from the 32 page paper include the following.

The future climate

  • “By 2050, global food systems will need to meet the dietary demands of more than 10 billion people who on average will be wealthier than people today and will aspire to the type of food choices currently available only in high‑income countries. This food will have to be produced sustainably in ways that contribute to reducing climate change, and that address other environmental challenges.
  • “It is widely recognized that the current trajectory of the food system will not allow us to meet these goals. The food system needs to change radically to address these challenges.
  • “It would be impossible for a global population of 10 billion people to eat the amount of meat typical of diets in North America and Europe and keep within the agreed sustainable development goals (SDGs) for the environment and climate: it would require too much land and water, and lead to unacceptable greenhouse‑gas and other pollutant emissions.
Meat / protein alternatives
Ein Stück Tofu (natur)
© Eskymaks –
  • “A continuum can be drawn from protein rich‑plants that are used in unprocessed forms to substitute for meat in meals (lentils, for example) through more processed products such as soy‑based tofu and wheat‑based seiten to recent innovations seeking to make vegetable burgers and other products that are as indistinguishable as possible from real meat.
  • “To date, the most commercially successful novel products are those based on fungi‑derived protein (mycoprotein) […] plant‑derived mycoproteins and insect‑derived proteins are especially suitable as they can be produced relatively cheaply today and can be incorporated with relatively minimal additional processing.
  • “It cannot be assumed that all of the exciting alternative‑protein innovations currently being developed, mainly in the West, will be appropriate for all markets and cultures. A strong spirit of co‑creation is needed to identify and adapt the best ideas that address environmental and societal challenges to new markets – particularlythose such as China, the rest of Asia and Africa.”
  • “To meet the protein needs of a projected population of 10 billion people by around 2050 in an inclusive, sustainable,
    healthy and nutritious manner is, as discussed above, a significant challenge. But it can be done. Transformation of the food system is essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and to meet the Paris Agreement climate‑change targets. Innovation and experimentation in both alternative and traditional proteins will be critical.
Meat and alternatives co-existing
  • “For the foreseeable future, the meat and alternative‑protein industries will coexist and have the opportunity to complement one other. Both incumbents and new players, and the various stakeholders who are involved throughout the protein supply chains, will gain from a nuanced debate about how to evolve and reshape regional and ultimately global food systems to provide healthy andsustainable diets. Only through dialogue and structured collaboration will society be able to transform the protein system, to create a future where safe, sustainable, affordable and healthy protein is provided to all.”
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