Fake Meat Won’t Save the Planet
Hype around meat substitutes and the problems they supposedly solve is questioned by experts in many fields
Trying to eat a healthy diet with an eye toward sustainability is bewildering these days. The recipe for perplexity includes long-running arguments over the nutritional and environmental merits and demerits of meat vs. plant-based foods, the supposed need for more protein around the world, and the latest spicy ingredient: fake meat billed as being better for you and solving all our global food-production problems.
An international team of experts recently cooked up a fresh take on the burgeoning global alternative-protein industry, including imitation meat products like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger, as well as emerging plant-based and lab-created substitutes for other animal products.
“Fake meat is a ‘silver bullet’ technology that may not be as sustainable as its advocates claim,” the report concludes. “Fake meat will not save the planet.”
The data-driven report, from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), questions and debunks several industry claims and commonly held beliefs. While it’s unlikely to end any food fights among businesses, governments, environmentalists and various advocacy groups, it offers tasty new tidbits of information that you and I can consume before our next meal.
Among the specific criticisms of plant-based protein substitutes:
- They contain so many ingredients, including salt and various oils, that nutritionists may consider them ultra-processed, a category of food to be avoided.
- The use of soy, palm oil, or wheat may worsen chemical-intensive crop production.
- Creating the products is often energy-intensive.
“Alternative proteins are promising reduced damage to the climate. However the evidence for these claims is limited and speculative,” the report notes. “Indeed they may cause more harm than good, and risk entrenching domination of food systems by giant agri-business firms, increasing dependency on fossil fuel energy, promoting standardized (Westernized) diets of processed foods, driving loss of livelihoods for…