Fake meat ‘alternatives’ are not as green as they claim because they are based on industrial methods that drive environmental crises, a new report has found.
The report, by the Independent Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and published last week, warned that alternative proteins that are used in things like plant-based burgers will continue the same problems of industrial food systems; powerful agribusiness corporations, unhealthy diets and long supply chains that exploit farmers.
“It’s easy to see why people would be drawn to the marketing and hype, but fake meat will not save the planet,” said IPES-Food member and lead author Phil Howard.
“In many cases, switching to fake meat will make the problems with our industrial food system worse; fossil fuel dependence, industrial monocultures, pollution, poor work conditions, unhealthy diets, and control by massive corporations.”
Many people are trying to cut their meat consumption as a way of reducing the impact of their diet, aware of things like deforestation driven by demand for animal feed and methane emissions from cows, as well as animal welfare concerns.
But consumers may be inadvertently funding the same agribusiness and meat processing companies that are driving deforestation, as companies like JBS and Cargill have developed plant-based brands and products as they look to make the most of the boom in this market.
“Well-meaning consumers might not know that fake meat is increasingly in the hands of the same giant meat corporations that are linked to the destruction of rainforests,” said Howard.
According to the report, this narrow focus on protein and profit fails to take into consideration the whole picture and is preventing a widespread shift to producing diverse, ecological, nutritious foods that support farmer livelihoods.
The report said food and farming must consider all dimensions of sustainability such as the environment, health, society and culture, rather than a simple switch in protein consumption.
“People say more protein is needed to stop people going hungry, as an excuse to leap on techno-fixes like fake meat,” said co-chair of IPES-Food, and UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter.
“But the reality is there’s an excess of protein production globally, these techno-fixes have nothing to offer malnourished people, and hunger must be addressed by improving access to diverse diets for people in poverty,” he added.
The report urged governments to address the concentration of power in agribusiness and alternative protein firms through competition and antitrust laws (regulations that break up and fine dominant firms abusing their power).
Finally, the decisions around the future of food must include the voices of indigenous people, farmers, fishers and those at risk of hunger, groups often excluded in this increasingly polarised debate, the report concluded.
For ideas and recipes on how to make your own plant-based burgers without ultra-processed ingredients click here.