MONTREAL — According to a study published a few days ago by the journal Nature, we could halve deforestation and emissions if we replaced just 20% of their beef consumption with a meat substitute by 2050. for protein means major changes in the agricultural world.
The study, conducted by Florian Humpenöder, a researcher at the Institute for Climate Change Impact Research in Potsdam, Germany, suggests that if agricultural practices remain the same and consumption patterns do not change, annual deforestation associated with global agriculture will increase. expected to double in the next 30 years.
However, if 20% of the beef consumed were replaced by mycoproteins, proteins from fungi used to make fake vegetable meats, demand for beef would stagnate and humans could avoid half of the deforestation and methane emissions caused by livestock farming. .
The findings of the study are not surprising to Carole-Anne Lapierre, an agriculture and food systems analyst at Équiterre, who is keen to see research into other types of vegetable proteins as well.
“We don’t have to stop all our meat consumption to have an impact on the climate,” says the agronomist, who does recognize that changing his eating habits can sometimes be a challenge.
“You have to learn how to cook, you have to get used to new flavors, you have to change our purchasing and recipe”, a process that can be more complicated for some people.
According to a survey by the firm Léger in 2019, nearly 9% of Canadians were vegetarian or vegan, with 26% calling themselves flexitarians, so they wanted to reduce their meat consumption without being exclusively vegetarian. Also according to the survey, 35% of the Canadian population stated that they ate little or no meat, mainly for ethical and health reasons.
Radically change your eating habits to limit climate disasters
In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission, which brought together 37 leading scientists in the fields of public health, agriculture, political science and environmental sustainability, designed a diet that would mitigate climate change while promoting human health.
Feeding 10 billion people by 2050 without destroying ecosystems would require radical transformation of the global food system, according to these scientists.
More specifically, “global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%”.
Health Canada also argues that there is a need to begin a shift to plant-based foods, as shown by the latest food guide.
On a large scale, such a shift would allow for more sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices, but would also involve a significant change in the way farmland is used.
Using land to feed people instead of animals
Currently, 80% of the grain produced in Quebec is used for animal feed, and 75% of the cultivated areas produce crops, mainly maize and soybeans, which are destined for animal feed, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
We therefore mainly use arable land for feeding animals, which then serve as food for humans.
Several organizations, including Équiterre, are advocating that farmland be primarily used to feed people.
“A change in diet must go hand in hand with a change in this ratio on the land,” says agronomist Carole-Anne Lapierre.
To improve the climate balance of agriculture, which is responsible for about 10% of Quebec’s greenhouse gases, Équiterre offers nature-based solutions that contribute to soil health, including various practices, including product diversification.
Crop diversification is also a solution put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
But integrating new crops is a challenge for some farmers.
“Society often asks more of farmers without understanding how hard it is to be a farmer,” says Carol-Anne Lapierre.
She argues for better support policies for farmers who want to make the switch, pointing to a study by the Canadian organization Farmers for Climate Transition, which shows that the United States and the European Union spend 13 and 73 times more budget per hectare, respectively. than Canada for agri-environmental programs.
“Farmers don’t have a lot of profit margins” to try new practices, adds the agronomist, explaining that it’s complicated to convince a farmer to start producing new crops, such as vegetable proteins. He is not convinced that the market is ready to welcome this type of product.
But if we trust the predictions of the group Market Data Forecast, it seems that the population will increasingly crave non-animal proteins. The company, which specializes in market analysis, predicts that the vegetable protein market could double from about $23 billion to $48 billion globally by 2026.