Can Going Vegan Save the Planet?


By Jim Dickrell, FarmJournal's Milk

Sep 18, 2019


A team of scientists from John Hopkins University claims switching to all vegan-diets across the globe would reduce the per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of food production by 70%.


Going to just one meatless day per week would cut the average American’s greenhouse gas emissions by 156 pounds per year, says Keeve Nachman, an assistant professor in the department of Environmental Health and Engineering at John Hopkins. That would be equivalent of reducing the annual mileage of a typical passenger vehicle by 174 miles per year, he says.


In other words, if individuals reduce their driving by less than ½ mile per day, they would achieve a greater GHG footprint reduction than going to meatless Mondays. And that points to the magnitude of switching diets compared to reducing fossil fuel use.


Switching from an omnivore diet to an all-vegan diet would reduce an individual’s GHG footprint by 0.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO²e), says Frank Mitloehner, an associate professor involved with environmental studies at the University of California-Davis. That’s half the carbon footprint of one international flight, he says.


Going to an all-vegan diet would reduce emissions by 2.6%, says Mitloehner. “But that would come at a price,” he says.


American agriculture would not be able to produce all the nutrients needed by consumers in the United States if everyone ate an all vegan diet. “That’s a price I’m not willing to pay,” says Mitloehner.


The other problem is that environmental activists take global emissions numbers and then apply it to the United States. For example, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that animal agriculture contributes 15% to GHGs globally.


In the United States, however, with it far more efficient agriculture, animal agriculture contributes just 3.9%. Dairy’s contribution is 1.37%. Transportation, electrical generation and industry contribute 79% of U.S. emissions, estimates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency...


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‘By 2030, the US dairy and cattle industry will have collapsed,’ as microbial protein factories take over, predicts think tank


By Elaine Watson, Food Navigator USA



“By 2030, the US dairy and cattle industry will have collapsed,” as ‘precision fermentation’ – producing animal proteins more efficiently via microbes – disrupts food production as we know it, predicts think tank RethinkX, which critics argue is living in “a vegan fantasyland.”


A new wave of companies using a suite of engineered microorganisms (yeast, bacteria, fungi) capable of producing everything from collagen and gelatin (Geltor) to egg proteins (Clara Foods), heme proteins that can be used in plant-based meat (Impossible Foods, Triton Algae Innovations), milk proteins (Perfect Day, New Culture), proteins found in human breast milk (Triton), or a combination of these (Motif FoodWorks) in big fermentation tanks, could change the food industry as we know it, predicts RethinkX.*


“Precision fermentation is a process that enables the programming of micro-organisms to produce almost any complex organic molecule,”​said the think tank, which was founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tony Seba and tech investor Jamie Arbib to explore technologies with the potential to disrupt established industries.


“Due to rapid improvements in underlying biological and information technologies, the cost of precision fermentation development and production is dropping exponentially – from $1m per kilo in 2000 to about $100 today. Assuming existing technologies and using well-established cost curves, the report projects that these costs will fall to $10/kilo by 2023-25, and that these proteins will be five times cheaper than traditional animal proteins by 2030 and 10 times cheaper by 2035.”​


Death by a thousand cuts?​


By 2030, argues the report ‘Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020-2030: The Second Domestication of Plants and Animals, the Disruption of the Cow, and the Collapse of Industrial Livestock Farming,’ “modern food products will cost less than half as much to produce as the animal-derived products they replace.​


“By 2030 the market for ground beef by volume will have shrunk by 70%, steak market by 30% and dairy market by almost 90%. The markets for other cow products (leather, collagen, etc.) are likely to decline more than 90%. All together, demand for cow products will fall by more than 50%.”​


Instead of growing a whole cow to break it down into products, precision fermentation designs the most efficient process to produce just the parts we need, which can be produced from a distibuted network of local production facilities using a fraction of the land, water, and inputs required to raise, feed and slaughter animals, it explained.


The resulting ingredients have the added appeal of consistent quality, a lack of price volatility, and security of supply, it added. "By 2030, we expect almost 90% of US dairy protein demand to come from precision fermentation alternatives."​


A death spiral​


As leather, collagen, milk and meat face competition from nature-identical analogs produced via microbial fermentation, demand for cow products will decrease, claim the authors, “triggering a death spiral of increasing prices for the industrial livestock industry, decreasing demand and reversing economies of scale​.”


As for cell-cultured meat, “Industrial cattle farming industry will collapse long before we see modern technologies produce the ‘perfect’ cellular steak at a competitive price​,” they argue.


“Projections are just that,” ​acknowledged RethinkX co-founder Jamie Arbib. “But we believe our framework, methodology and findings are more accurate than those produced by linear models, which risk locking in expensive, obsolete, and uncompetitive assets, technologies and skill sets.”​


New Crop Capital, Unovis Partners: No accident that Tyson is calling itself a 'protein' company


So what do industry stakeholders and other commentators make of these bold predictions?


Dan Altschuler Malek, managing partner at Unovis Partners’ New Crop Capital venture fund – which has invested in companies in plant-based, cell-cultured or ‘cultivated’ meat, and proteins produced via microbial fermentation – said no one can predict with certainty what the food system will be like in 2030 or 2035, but said all three approaches had the potential to be disruptive.


"I don't believe in a winner takes all, whether it's companies or sources of protein or technologies. ​I also think geographically things will play out differently ​[depending on] consumer tastes and culinary heritage,"​ he said, noting that, much will also depend on "infrastructure, purchasing power, and crop availability. But what's very exciting is that big players are making bold strategic decisions to get into this space."​​


It is also significant that some of the world's biggest meat companies - which have invested in plant-based and cell-cultured meat - are increasingly describing themselves as 'protein' companies, he added.


Asked whether growing animal proteins using engineered microbes in big fermentation tanks ran contrary to consumers' desire to return to traditional methods of food production, he noted that bucolic images of small farms often presented by food companies are a far cry from the realities of factory farming, while lots of things consumers already eat, from beer to yogurts are already produced using fermentation.


NMPF: Authors are living in ‘a vegan fantasyland’​...


Jack Bobo: ‘Incredibly unlikely that this will happen in the timeframe they describe’​ ...


He added: “Not even the companies in this space are suggesting they can scale at that speed."​


‘Big food’ and technology: ‘Imagine if Monsanto had come up with the Impossible Burger’​ ...


‘It’s very easy to describe this technology in a way that makes it seem pretty unappetizing’​ ...