Findings of the study published in Nature show that replacing beef consumption with meat substitute in thirty years could halve the deforestation and carbon emissions.
Study lead author Florian Humpenöder says replacing beef with meat alternatives could reduce food production’s environmental footprint, but it alone won’t solve the climate crisis.
Franziska Gaupp, who studies food systems at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, says, Humpenöder and his colleagues are the first to estimate the environmental effects of partially replacing beef with mycoprotein over time.
Hanna Tuomisto, who studies sustainable food systems at the University of Helsinki, says global assessments such as the one carried out by Humpenöder’s team could help to highlight more-sustainable ways to produce food.
Humpenöder says the mitigating effects of deforestation are that global demand for beef does not increase, and hence there would be no need to expand pasture areas or cropland for feeding cattle.
Beef farming is a major source of deforestation, and cattle raised for beef are a major source of methane which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
The team used a mathematical model that considered increases in population growth, income and livestock demand between 2020 and 2050. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the global increase in beef consumption would require the expansion of pasture areas for grazing and cropland for feed production, which would double the annual rate of deforestation globally. Methane emissions and agricultural water use would also increase.
The beneficial effects of deforestation eventually plateau out. Replacing 80% of beef with mycoprotein would eliminate about 90% of forest loss. Swapping 50% of the beef consumed per person for mycoprotein would result in a more than 80% reduction in deforestation and carbon emissions.
Humpenöder says researchers found that the substitution would change agricultural water use as the water used for cattle farming would go towards other kinds of crops.