One of the world’s biggest economic sectors is food and farming. But according to new research from IDTechEx, meat production at its current level is unsustainable. To feed the world’s population of an estimated ten billion by 2050 will require a 70 percent increase in global food production, a figure that will be detrimental to the environment.
The report noted that although meat production is growing by a rate of two to three percent per year, it is an inefficient way to produce calories. Plant-based foods account for 83 percent of global caloric intake, while animals account for just 17 percent . Only 33 percent of global protein intake is derived from meat and dairy.
IDTechEx’s report suggests a massive shift toward plant-based and cultured meat. A study published in the journal Science in 2018 concluded that animal agriculture can be attributed to many global environmental problems. This means that avoiding the 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.
Producers of meat and other animal products are looking for a sustainable way to retain their strong position in households. The global meat and dairy industry is worth more than $2 trillion and represents about 5.6 percent of US GDP, but producers are pivoting to plant-based options to keep plant-based startups from chipping away at market share and complement their existing portfolios. In recent years, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Cargill and JBS have all introduced plant-based products.
However, the meat industry is not only considering plant-based alternatives on its quest toward sustainability. 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.