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How meat replacements affect the environment

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Meat patties on a barbeque grill
Symbol picture © iStock/Anna_Om

The production of meat is harmful to the environment - but what about the alternatives? The study "Meat of the future" published by the German Environment Agency provides information.

The German Environment Agency (German abbreviation: UBA) has conducted a study about the effects of different meat alternatives on the environment and health. Vegetable meat substitutes, edible insects and meat from the laboratory have been considered.

Vegetable meat substitutes

From an environmental point of view, vegetable-based meat substitutes came out best in the study - tofu even better than seitan.

However, the UBA only considered products that also attempt to imitate meat. The authority estimated the expected turnover for 2020 at 220 million euros for Germany, which would be eight percent of the market for meat and meat replacement products.

The UBA also addressed the high degree of processing of plant-based substitute products with many additives as well as the use of chicken egg white as an ingredient. The report states: "While vegans make up only a small proportion of consumers, the much larger and economically more relevant target group is those who are less interested in individual animal components of their food". This is underlined by the success of the German meat processor Rügenwalder, which according to UBA accounts for a third of sales of substitute products bought in Germany.

Insect-based meat substitutes

In second place from an environmental point of view was insect-based meat replacement. According to the UBA, the choice of the feed is the most important factor in the balance. After all, mealworms need about 2.2 kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram in weight. The UBA assessed feed containing soy and fish meal as negative, and food waste as positive. The report describes the negligible scene of companies dealing with this issue and names the most important obstacle: disgust. "The willingness to consume insects as a substitute for meat is very low", is therefore the conclusion.

Cultured meat

Meat from the laboratory is produced by multiplying stem cells from farm animals in a nutrient medium and growing the muscle cells obtained from this into pieces of meat on carrier frames. "Small-scale production of in-vitro meat is already possible at present, but there are still no processes for industrial production", describes the UBA the state of development. Above all, there is a lack of a suitable culture medium and suitable bioreactors for mass production. According to UBA, the environmental and health effects of in-vitro meat are difficult to assess and further research is necessary due to the current state of development.

After all, the UBA has made it clear that meat consumption in Germany must be significantly reduced from its current level of just under 60 kilograms per inhabitant - for the sake of the environment and health.


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