An interview with Alex Holst, Good Food Insitute Europe. ”It’s impossible to meet our climate targets without reducing animal agriculture”

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Image by Eszter Miller, from Pixabay

“The science is very clear that it’s impossible to meet our climate targets without reducing animal agriculture. A study led by Oxford University found that – even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately – the world cannot meet its Paris Agreement targets without shifting away from conventional animal agriculture. Plant-based and cultivated meat let people keep eating the steaks, sausages and meatballs they love with a fraction of the environmental impact, and they free up space for more sustainable farming practices.” To say it – in this interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Alex Holst, senior policy manager at the Good Food Institute Europe. He talks about the role of plant-based and cultivated meat in limiting our impact on climate change.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso 

What is the Good Food Institute and what are its goals?

We are an international NGO helping to build a more sustainable, secure and just food system by transforming meat production.

We work with scientists, businesses and policymakers to advance plant-based and cultivated meat – making them delicious, affordable and accessible across Europe. 

Our goal is to advance sustainable proteins across the continent – by making meat from plants and cultivating it from cells, we can reduce the environmental impact of our food system, decrease the risk of zoonotic disease, and feed more people with fewer resources. 

Food system activities, including producing food, transporting it, and storing wasted food in landfills, produce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to climate change. Of these sources, livestock production is the largest, accounting for an estimated 14.5 percent of global GHG emissions from human activities. Meat from ruminant animals, such as cattle and goats, are particularly emissions-intensive. Is there a way to keep eating meat and limit our impact on climate change?

The science is very clear that it’s impossible to meet our climate targets without reducing animal agriculture. A study led by Oxford University found that – even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately – the world cannot meet its Paris Agreement targets without shifting away from conventional animal agriculture.

Plant-based and cultivated meat let people keep eating the steaks, sausages and meatballs they love with a fraction of the environmental impact, and they free up space for more sustainable farming practices.  

A study released last year found that diversifying our protein supply – making meat from cells and growing it from plants – could reduce emissions by 5Gt every year, as well as freeing up an area of land the size of the Amazon rainforest. If that land is restored to natural habitat, or used for agroecological farming, the benefits could be even greater.”

More than 70 other startups around the world are courting investors in a race to deliver lab-grown versions of beef, chicken, pork, duck, tuna, foie gras, shrimp, kangaroo and even mouse (for cat treats) to market. Do you think there is a market at EU level for this kind of alternative proteins?

As we are starting to see in Singapore, where cultivated meat was approved for sale in 2020, once given the choice to opt for cultivated meat that is tasty, convenient and cost-competitive, people will choose it.

One study showed that 57% of people interviewed in Germany would try cultivated meat, while another found that 54% of people in Italy would be willing to try it.

We also know there is a huge appetite across Europe for plant-based foods – with Nielsen data showing retail sales of plant-based foods across Europe reached €3.6 billion in 2020 – 28% higher than the previous year, although this still represents a tiny fraction of the market. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group shows that with major government investment and supportive policies, plant-based, fermentation-made and cultivated meat could make up 22% of the global  meat market by 2035.”

Only in the EU, around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually with associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros. While an estimated 20% of the total food produced is lost or wasted, 33 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day. How can we avoid these losses?

Our current food system, in which large amounts of crops are grown only to be fed to animals, is inherently wasteful. Research shows 36% of the world’s crop calories are used for animal feed, and animals provide just 18% of calories while taking up 83% of farmland. 

Making meat directly from plants is a far more efficient system, and requires substantially less crops than raising animals for meat, reducing land-use and water-use. Fermentation – another method of producing sustainable proteins – can also help to reduce food waste, by transforming agricultural surplus and byproducts into nutritious and delicious food. These foods are incredibly efficient. For example, Quorn has a carbon footprint 70% lower than chicken, while Solein, a protein made by Finnish fermentation company Solar Foods using electricity and air, uses up to 200 times less land than beef.

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