The food industry could promote meat and dairy substitutes ‘like digital technology’ to tackle climate change, suggests former World Bank environmental adviser Robert Goodland.
Goodland was one of two World Bank environmental advisers who co-authored a 2009 World Watch report arguing that the emissions produced in the lifecycle and supply chain of livestock could account for as much as 51% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Figures estimating livestock’s contribution to total emissions vary widely, from a proportion of about 10% to World Watch’s 51%. The most commonly cited figure is the 18% indicated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in a 2006 report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”.
“Like digital technology, meat anddairy substitutes can deliver better quality at lower cost, while fulfilling the world's priority of preventing climate disruption,” Goodland wrote in a blog post for a new website underpinned by the World Watch report’s conclusions.
“From a food industry perspective, meat and dairy substitutes can be promoted like digital technology,” he wrote. “Within a decade, manufacturers have switched almost entirely from analog televisions and telephones to digital versions – propelled by savings in materials and energy use, along with other improvements.”
Development of new meat analog products has accelerated in recent years, with some of the most promising alternatives based on plant proteins, such as soy and peas, and the dairy substitutes market has also expanded.
According to a recent report from market research organization Packaged Facts, consumption of dairy alternative beverages reached $1.33bn last year and is growing rapidly. Meanwhile, USDA figures suggest that average per capita consumption of cow’s milk has fallen from 24.3 gallons per person in 1994 to 20.8 gallons per person in 2008.
“From a consumer perspective, the required change can be made by people who would scarcely notice the difference in replacing carbon-intensive meat and dairy products with substitutes such as seitan-based ‘chicken’, soy-based ‘beef’, nut-based milks, and coconut-based ice cream,” Goodland wrote.
“People may not recognize it, but their food habits are greatly induced by marketing, which today promote meat and dairy products strenuously. Yet marketing can promote alternatives instead, and trying tasty new foods is normally considered desirable.”
Goodland claims that allowing forest to regenerate on just a quarter of the land currently used for grazing livestock could be a “single, powerful action to reverse climate change quickly”.