Sustainability / Environment

Study Finds Plant-Based Beef Significantly More Sustainable Than Traditional Beef

A research team from Macquarie University in Australia has conducted a comparative study analyzing papers from various countries on the sustainability and nutrition of beef versus plant-based beef, revealing some interesting results.

Plant-based beef was found to significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, with reductions ranging from 86% to 97% in various studies. Plant-based beef also requires less land, estimated to be less than 5%. 

“Roughly 75 % of global agricultural land is for animal production while animal-based foods provide only 18 % human calories and 25 % protein in global good supply,” states the paper.

The new research also shows that plant-based beef, particularly burgers, generally have lower energy and saturated fat content but lower levels of protein compared to beef.

Emission sources

Cattle contribute to emissions primarily from methane released during eructation via enteric fermentation, show the findings. Other significant emission sources include manure decomposition, the production and application of pesticides and fertilizers for feed crops, and a lower amount of emissions for the energy needed for processing, freezing, and transportation.

Beyond Meat IV
© Beyond Meat

In contrast, plant-based beef emissions mainly stem from pesticides and fertilizers used in crop production and energy used for processing. According to Human Geographer Professor Andrew McGregor, lead researcher of the study, different processing methods and ingredients can impact emissions from plant-based meat, but overall, it is significantly more sustainable.

Fibers and lower total fat

The nutritional benefits of plant-based beef vary due to differing product qualities tailored to meet specific dietary guidelines in each country.

After analyzing thirteen nutrition studies, the researchers concluded that plant-based meats generally contain less protein, iron, zinc, and saturated fat while they are higher in carbohydrates, fiber, and sodium. The authors suggest that the nutrient profile of plant-based meats has room for improvement.

The research also points out that plant-based burgers are classified as ultra-processed foods, and depending on the circumstances, they can be less healthy than, for example, a lean beef burger. Nonetheless, the paper says studies have not shown significant differences in health outcomes between consuming one or the other.

Freshness vegan soy and avocado burger
© Freshness Burger

Clarifying the knowledge

The results of the study, funded by the cultivated milk startup All G Foods (which was not involved in the research process), have been published in the latest edition of the Journal of Cleaner Production. The study aimed to clarify the current scientific knowledge on the sustainability of plant-based beef amidst conflicting information.

The paper states, “One of the technological responses to concerns about the healthiness and sustainability of red meat consumption as well as growing global food insecurity has been the development of plant-based meats. 

“Our analysis shows (…) plant-based beef has lower greenhouse gas emissions than animal-based beef and that plant-based burgers have lower total fat and saturated fat than animal-based burgers.”

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