Animal funds

Animal agriculture struggles show need for alternative sources of protein

Jordan Allen and Amiti Banavar

Meat and dairy farming accounts for more than 14.5% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contributing to environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. These sectors contribute the most to GHG emissions, far exceeding emissions from the transportation sector. The 2015 Paris Agreement highlighted the need for reform – four of the 17 defined sustainability goals relate specifically to animal agriculture. The world’s major economies have been called upon to work to eradicate hunger, promote responsible food production and consumption, combat climate change and protect life on earth. The COVID-19 outbreak and the lack of widespread policy reforms make it less likely that these goals will be achieved by the target year of 2030.

If we hope to achieve these goals, a more sustainable food system is vital. Maintaining the food supply chain and the economy while creating a greener system can seem difficult. Reducing the global reliance on conventional animal agriculture for its protein supply and harnessing more sustainable production methods must be part of the solution. Alternative proteins – meat made from plants and grown from cells is a key part of this puzzle.

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In November, more than 100 world leaders and 35,000 people gather in Egypt for the United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, COP27, to discuss all aspects of climate change in order to limit the human impact on our environment. . For the first time, the conference will include a food systems pavilion focused on bringing about viable change to international food organizations and food policy.

As leaders move forward and make decisions about our health and climate future, the impetus also lies in consumers making informed decisions about the foods we eat every day.

Consumers have already shown a strong interest in plant-based meat. In 2021, sales of plant-based foods totaled over $7.4 billion, a 54% sales growth over the past 3 years.

Currently, a third of the protein consumed worldwide comes from animal sources. However, animal protein is expensive, limited in supply and directly linked to freshwater depletion, climate change and biodiversity loss. They also cause human diseases (eg E. coli, salmonella and listeria). When the pandemic brought supply chains to a halt, the difficulty of maintaining slaughterhouses while protecting workers from COVID-19 caused meat prices to spike and was one of the main reasons for the law on $19.5 billion reduction in inflation. This initiative was adopted to help the struggling agricultural sector and provide new conservation funds to support climate-smart agriculture. Problems like these will only become more frequent, including disease, food supply chain shortages and climate instability. Due to these ongoing issues, there needs to be greater consideration for new sources of protein.

While we can’t assume that everyone wants to adopt a flexitarian, vegan, or vegetarian lifestyle, alternative proteins are derived from more than just plants. According to alternative protein think tank, the Good Food Institute, “alternative protein” is a catch-all phrase that can be interpreted as ingredients derived from non-animal sources. The new technology, known as cultured meat, allows animal cells to be grown in bioreactors so consumers can enjoy real meat more sustainably. Studies show that cultured meat could produce up to 92% fewer emissions than conventional meat.

Although alternative proteins are gaining traction in the media, more needs to be done to reduce the world’s reliance on animal agriculture to the extent necessary to meet global sustainability goals. It will be impossible to achieve the goals of the aforementioned 2015 Paris International Agreement without a marked reduction in conventional animal agriculture. But in recent years, many companies, academic institutions and global initiatives have emerged focusing on the development and distribution of alternative proteins. These developments bring hope for a climate-friendly food future. Groups such as Virginia Tech’s Alt Protein Project, supported by the Good Food Institute, are dedicated to raising awareness and education about various animal-free choices being developed and sold.

The communities surrounding Roanoke and the New River Valley have always been keen to support local, farm-fresh food. With the opening of several vegan restaurants in Roanoke, fast food chains adding brands such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers, and the addition of plant-based options at supermarkets such as Kroger, meatless meals are increasingly easy to obtain. As citizens and voters, we can push our government to invest in businesses focused on promoting sustainable food systems to promote greater dietary diversity and sources of income in our communities. Although change on an international scale may be slow, we have the power to influence future generations in our own backyard through our decisions and actions.

Allen and Banavar are second-year master’s students studying food science and technology at Virginia Tech. Allen currently conducts research on food processing by-products, specifically brewers’ spent grains, at Tech’s Huang Lab. Banavar’s research focuses on the development and characterization of plant-based scaffolds for use in cultured seafood, and she currently works in the Ovissipour Laboratory at the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hampton.