United Nations Says Tackling Meat Is World’s Most ‘Urgent’ Problem

Last week, two companies were honored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for their work in creating plant-based meats that rival conventional meat. According to UNEP, these companies — Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods — are evolving the food system by removing the need for animal agriculture, which has a significant detrimental impact on the planet.

“Our use of animals as a food-production technology has brought us to the verge of catastrophe,” UNEP said in a statement, that also names meat “the world’s most urgent problem.”

The greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocket ship combined,” the organization said. “There is no pathway to achieve the Paris climate objectives without a massive decrease in the scale of animal agriculture,” it added, referencing the Paris Agreement which sees countries around the world pledging to attempt to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

But the impact of meat production spans further than gas emissions. Animal agriculture remains a leading driver of water loss, deforestation, rising sea levels, species extinction, and pollution. So when meat-free companies Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods created entirely plant-based patties that replicated the taste, touch, and look of meat, UNEP saw a reason to reward them; both received the title of “Champion of the Earth” for 2018 in the science and innovation category.

When compared to a conventional beef patty, the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger use drastically fewer resources. Recent data uncovered that the Beyond Burger, in particular, uses 99 percent less water, 93 percent less land, 46 percent less energy, and generates 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than a 1/4 pound beef patty.

The data adds to a growing pool of information that points to a vegan diet an effective means of reducing environmental impact. One August study concluded that adopting a plant-based diet can lower one’s impact on the planet by 42 to 84 percent. Other research found that a vegan diet uses five times less water than a meat-based diet. Researchers from the University of Oxford pointed out that if everyone stopped eating beef and went vegan, global land use would drop by 75 percent. The same study said that adopting a vegan diet is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth.”

Ethan Brown, the CEO of Beyond Meat, spoke about the impact of food choices. “These four things kept coming back to me: human health, climate change, natural resource, and animal welfare implications of using animals for meat.” He added, “And what fascinated me is that you can simultaneously tackle all these concerns by simply changing the protein source for meat from animals to plants.”

Image Credit: Beyond Meat

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