Sustainable food systems will mean coexistence, not competition

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The meat sector in its current form is not sustainable; yet so does the complete replacement of the use of animals as food technology. For the biggest and fastest environmental impact, we need to take care of how we grow our food. More sustainable models will involve the coexistence between traditional and alternative production methods.

The world urgently needs innovation to deal with the rise of the hunger crisis in the worldworsened by the war in
Ukraine. Geopolitical conflicts, COVID, climate change and rising supply chain and logistics costs have created a perfect storm, further endangering the 811 million hungry people in the world. Current industrial models and systems in the agri-food sector have not changed much in over a century. To stem the tide, food production must evolve to help improve the impact of food production on the environment.

This does not mean that we should seek to eliminate certain products from our diet. Reducing the conversation about food and climate change to a matter of consumer choice is simply a distraction. For the biggest and fastest environmental impact, we need to take care of how we grow our food. More sustainable models should involve the coexistence between traditional and alternative production methods. Meat plays a major role in our diet; however, its current production systems also have a major impact on our territory: Approximately half of the planet’s habitable land is currently used for agricultureaccording to some reports, about 77 percent being used for cattle grazing.

Building more inclusive food systems

Although recent years have seen the advent of a whole new range of plant-based meat substitutes, commercially available meat substitutes first appeared in the 1970s amid the energy crisis – with soy-based protein in mind as people started thinking about how to help the planet through their diets.

Despite a host of alternative options, livestock accounts for approximately 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions — two-thirds of this total coming from cattle alone, according to the CAM. Despite the recent popularity of plant-based diets, the world is on track to consume more meat by 2050
than ever before.

To create the kind of redesign needed to address the impact of livestock on the climate, we need to think bigger than just plant protein versus animal protein. What is needed is a range of solutions, including new ways of producing meat (cultured meat), regenerative farming practices, ongoing education, and adopting sustainable diets and responsible consumption.

An inclusive solution is needed to address the complexity of the problem, one that involves multiple strategies working in concert with education and policy:

  1. responsible consumption of meat and the adoption of a sustainable and healthy diet,

  2. sustainable and regenerative farming practices incorporating incremental innovation to increase efficiency, and

  3. transformational innovations such as alternative proteins and cultured meat that can complement sustainable agriculture and meet the growing demand for food with the global population.

Transition of the current meat production model: coexistence is essential

The meat sector in its current form is not sustainable; yet it is also unsustainable to completely replace the use of animals as food technology. Sustainable farming plays a crucial role in the overall ability to restore our planet. To move to more sustainable systems overall, the world will need to undertake an inclusive transition involving large and small conventional agricultural producers.

The sad reality is that even if consumers demand more and more
sustainable food production (particularly in relation to the meat sector), no significant change will occur without a change in policy and technology.

Meat as we know it is not going away anytime soon; and new ways to produce the same products without the many accompanying effects are rapidly emerging to address long-standing challenges. For example, there are a growing number of players in the nascent cultured meat industry providing solutions – pioneering advances in growing meat, including beef,
Seafoodchicken and pork straight from the cells.

These companies strive to supply cultured meat commercially and will eventually supply their products to the supermarket alongside and at the same price as conventional meat products – grown without antibiotics and with minimal environmental impact.

Finally, increased competition – combined with policy changes and realignment of incentives – will push the meat sector towards a more sustainable and environmentally sound production model; but this can only be done with the coexistence of cultured meat solutions and more sustainable farming practices.

To truly build resilience in our food systems, we all need to be accountable for our actions and implement the four pillars of sustainability. This amounts to prioritizing environmental conservation, giving access to food that satisfies sociocultural needs of all, to promote and advance the
health and well-being, and ensure economic sustainability with affordable products through traceable supply chains.

We can no longer afford not to act

With estimates showing that 282.7 million people in 80 countries
are facing extreme levels of acute hunger – an increase of around 110% on 2019 levels – there is an imperative to increase the resilience of the global supply chain and, above all, of the food supply. We can no longer afford to maintain the status quo.

Instead, we need to take a big step forward to meet the growing market demand for meat, where transformational innovation coexists and complements the productive capacity of regenerative farming methods. Cultured meat and other similar solutions may well be the innovation we need to achieve food security and solve food-related climate change problems.

Supporting the inclusive transition to sustainable and resilient animal agriculture systems will be a key solution to achieving the fastest and most impactful climate change goals of our time.

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