Food and farming is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world. But according to new research from IDTechEx, meat production at its current level is unsustainable. To feed the world’s population in 2050, which is expected to hit ten billion, it will require a 70 percent increase in global food production that will be detrimental to the environment.
The report notes that although meat production is growing by a rate of two to three percent per year, it is an inefficient way to produce calories. Animals account for 17 percent of global caloric consumption, while plant-based foods supply was 83 percent of global caloric intake. Just 33 percent of global protein intake comes from meat and dairy.
IDTechEx’s report proposes a large-scale shift to plant-based and cultured meat. A 2018 study published in the journal Science concluded animal agriculture is responsible for many global environmental problems, and avoiding consumption of animal products would help more than buying sustainable meat and dairy products.
Some consumers have made the switch. US retail sales of plant-based foods rose 11.4 percent last year, for a total market value of $5 billion. According to a recent market research report released by Nielsen, US consumers are opting for plant-based meat alternatives like never before amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Companies producing animal products are looking for a sustainable way to retain their foothold in households. In a global industry that is worth more than $2 trillion and represents about 5.6 percent of US GDP, meat and dairy producers are pivoting to plant-based options to complement their portfolios and keep plant-based startups from chipping away at market share. Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Cargill and JBS have all introduced plant-based products in recent years.
However, the meat industry is not only approaching sustainability from a plant-based perspective. The board of the North American Meat Institute unanimously agreed to encourage companies to share sustainability practices by making the environmental impact of meat and poultry production a non-competitive issue among members.
Since meat production contributes heavily to the increases in greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, soil degradation and water stress, companies making the switch to plant-based meats could help ease the environmental stress.