Meat production is environment-unfriendly. To produce one kilogram of animal protein, three to ten kilograms of plant protein are required, depending on the particular animal species and circumstances. Furthermore, one kilo of beef requires 15 m3 of water while one kilo of grain needs only 0.4 to 3 m3 . Between 1950 and 2000, the world's population doubled from 2.7 to 6.7 billion people while meat production increased fivefold from 45 to 233 billion kilos per year.
The researchers are arguing for a "protein transition". We must eat less meat and partly replace our protein requirements with so-called Novel Protein Foods (NPFs). These NPFs are based on plant proteins that are derived from, for example, peas or soya. While we don't all have to adopt a vegetarian diet, a change in production is necessary, and above all, a change in mentality. It is true that in Western countries meat substitutes are increasingly popular, but the consumption of meat remains persistently high. Even in industrializing countries such as China and Brazil, where meat consumption used to be low, meat consumption is rising rapidly. To achieve real change - a transition - this trend must be reversed on a global scale.
A protein transition has many additional advantages. A conservative estimation by the researchers found that because so much land would become available to cultivate biomass, a quarter of the world's current energy consumption could be sustainably met from this energy source. Moreover, this can be achieved without affecting grass¬lands (with extensive meat production) and nature areas, such as tropical rainforests. A protein transition will also have a positive influence on people's health, through the reduction of many meat-related and obesity-related diseases.
The study presented here is intended to benefit every stakeholder in the food chain from policymakers to consumers, and it offers guiding principles for a transition towards an ecologically and socially sustainable food system from a multi-level perspective. PROFETAS, a research program studying the options for more sustainable food production and consumption, was financed by the Dutch National Science Foundation NWO; the Technology Foundation STW; the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality; and private companies. Additional information about the NWO PROFETAS program is available at www.profetas.nl.
Harry Aiking, Joop de Boer, Johan Vereijken (Eds.)
Sustainable Protein Production and Consumption: Pigs or Peas?
2006, 226 pp., Hardcover EUR 85.00, £65.50, $109.00, sFr 144.00