It is possible to significantly reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions as well as the destruction of natural spaces by halving the consumption of meat and dairy products, in favor of new plant substitutes, conclude researchers in a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications.
An international team looked into the environmental benefits of consuming new alternative foods, made from plants or even mushrooms, which can replace the main products of animal origin.
Less greenhouse gases and nitrogen fertilizers
The authors simulated diet change scenarios based on vegetarian recipes, containing for example soy proteins or dried beans, supposed to offer the same nutritional benefits as animal products.
“We observe a substantial reduction in global environmental impacts by 2050, if 50% of major animal products (pork, chicken, beef and milk) are substituted“, conclude the authors in the journal Nature Communications.
More specifically, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land use would fall by 31% in 2050 compared to 2020, while they are currently expected to increase with growth. demographics and increasing income. The net reduction in the size of forests and natural lands would be “almost completely stopped“.
Other benefits: the reduction in the use of nitrogen fertilizers, the decline in the use of water for agriculture and even a reduction in malnutrition in the world.
Greenhouse gases: replacing beef would be the most effective
The decline in emissions would largely be the result of a reduction in the quantity of methane (CH4) – this powerful greenhouse gas is produced during the digestion of ruminants – released into the atmosphere.
It is the replacement of beef which would be the most virtuous, according to the researchers. “Plant-based meats are not just a new product, they are also a critical opportunity to achieve global climate and food security, health and biodiversity goals.“, underlined Eva Wollenberg, from the University of Vermont, co-author of the study.
“But such a transition will be challenging and requires a series of technological innovations and policy interventions“, she tempers.
The authors thus readily recognize that livestock farming today supports many people, particularly poor people, and that intervention by public authorities will be required to ensure a socially just and sustainable “transition” of food systems.