Sustainability / Environment

UN Report Finds Meat Alternatives Have “Strong Potential for Reduced Environmental Impacts”

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has investigated the potential of plant-based, cultivated, and fermented meat alternatives to address the environmental impact of animal foods.

The report notes that forecasts for the growth of the alt meat market vary considerably, with projections for its share of the total meat market ranging from 4 to 60 percent by 2040. The authors suggest that significant technological advances will be needed to help meat alternatives compete with animal products on taste and price, and to make them available on a wider scale.

“New food alternatives will offer a broader spectrum of consumer choices”

However, meat alternatives alreadyshow strong potential for reduced environmental impacts compared to many conventional animal products”, particularly if produced using low-carbon energy. Furthermore, they have public health benefits such as lowering the risk of pandemics and antibiotic resistance, and could drastically reduce harm to animals in the food system.

Minimally processed plant-based foods are also associated with reduced risks of premature mortality and non-communicable diseases, though the report points out that many currently available plant-based meat products are highly processed. (It is worth noting that according to recent research, meat alternatives do not have the same health risks as processed animal meat and other processed products such as sugary soft drinks.)

Plant-based Chicken Sandwiches
©Recreate Foods

The role of governments

The report lists several countries and regions — including Brazil, China, the EU, India, Israel, Singapore, and the US — that have already invested in meat alternatives. It notes that some governments are providing incentives to alt meat producers, while policy and regulatory environments are evolving rapidly. These countries are contrasted with Italy, which has passed bills banning cultivated meat and the use of meat-like terms for plant-based products.

To support meat alternatives in becoming commercially viable, UNEP suggests that governments provide funding for research and develop streamlined regulatory frameworks. They could also reduce or redistribute subsidies currently given to animal agriculture.

The authors conclude that alt meats could play an important role in the shift towards healthier, more sustainable, and more animal-friendly food systems. Policies can be introduced to promote these foods effectively, ensuring positive outcomes.

“New food alternatives will offer a broader spectrum of consumer choices,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Further, such alternatives can also lessen the pressures on agricultural lands and reduce emissions, thereby helping us address the triple planetary crisis — the crisis of climate change, the crisis of biodiversity and nature loss, the crisis of pollution and waste — as well as address the health and environmental consequences of the animal agriculture industry. More government support, as well as open and transparent research, can help unlock the potential of these new technologies for some countries.”

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