Measures against deforestation : Environmenta...
Measures against deforestation

Environmental benefits of microbial protein

Imago / ZUMA Wire
"So replacing minced red meat with microbial protein would be a great start to reduce the detrimental impacts of present-day beef production," says Florian Humpenöder, a researcher at PIK and lead author of the study.
"So replacing minced red meat with microbial protein would be a great start to reduce the detrimental impacts of present-day beef production," says Florian Humpenöder, a researcher at PIK and lead author of the study.

GERMANY, Potsdam. Researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) analysed the benefits of partly substituting the global beef consumption with microbial proteins – a meat alternative produced in fermentation tanks.

 An analysis by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research published in Nature finds that substituting a fifth of meat from cattle with microbial protein could halve deforestation by 2050. The researchers claim that the meat alternative is very similar in taste and texture, while production involves less land resources and greenhouse gas emissions than its animal counterpart.


The analysis is based on the assumption of a growing world population's increasing beef consumption. It is supposedly the first assessment published on the future impact of the fermented meat alternative.

"The food system is at the root of a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with ruminant meat production being the single largest source," said Florian Humpenöder, a researcher at PIK and lead author of the study. Nutritious protein-rich biomass with a meat-like texture produced from microbes like fungi via fermentation - what scientists call "microbial protein"- could help tackle deforestation and reduce GHG emissions, the researchers believe.

Sustainable substitutes for red meat

The team of researchers from Germany and Sweden included microbial protein in a computer simulation model to detect the environmental effects in the context of the whole food and agriculture system, as opposed to previous studies at the level of single products. Their projections run until 2050 and account for future population growth, food demand, dietary patterns, and dynamics in land use and agriculture.

"We found that if we substituted 20% of ruminant meat per capita by 2050, annual deforestation and CO2 emissions from land-use change would be halved compared to a business-as-usual scenario. The reduced numbers of cattle do not only reduce the pressure on land but also reduce methane emissions from the rumen of cattle and nitrous oxide emissions from fertilising feed or manure management," said Humpenöder.

"There are broadly three groups of meat analogues", Isabelle Weindl, co-author and researcher at PIK, explained. "There are plant-based ones like soybean burger patties and animal cells grown in a petri dish also known as cultured meat, which is so far very expensive but got a lot of public attention recently. And there's fermentation-derived microbial protein, which we consider most interesting," Weindl said and added that microbial protein had the potential to be largely decoupled from agricultural production.

Biotechnology's potential to aid in improving food security

"Biotechnology offers a promising toolbox for a number of land-related challenges from ecosystems preservation to improving food security," said co-author Alexander Popp, leader of the Land Use Management group at PIK.

"Alternatives to animal proteins, including substitutes for dairy products, can massively benefit animal welfare, save water and avert pressure from carbon-rich and biodiverse ecosystems." However, there are crucial questions attached to shifting more and more production from livestock to fermentation tanks - most importantly, the energy supply for the production process.

"A large-scale transformation towards biotech food requires a large-scale decarbonisation of electricity generation so that the climate protection potential can be fully developed," Popp added. "Yet if we do this properly, microbial protein can help meat-lovers embrace the change. It can really make a difference."

Source: Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

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