6 Ways the USDA Can Save the Planet
Each grant cycle, the USDA’s Agricultural Food Research Initiative (AFRI) seeks feedback on the particular topic areas for which they are soliciting research proposals, spanning obesity prevention to soil health. As an organization that recognizes the need to create a sustainable agricultural system, USDA is focused on answering a question we think about nonstop at The Good Food Institute:

How can we feed the world’s growing population with safe and healthy foods produced through systems that do not negatively impact climate, biodiversity, and scarce natural resources?

In response to the call for feedback, GFI’s scientific foundations liaison, Dr. Erin Rees Clayton submitted a letter outlining research and development priorities that would have the greatest impact on achieving a more sustainable agricultural system. Our proposal is currently being reviewed by the AFRI Management Team. 

This kind of food-system improvement cannot be achieved without addressing the problem of animal agriculture. Erin points to the World Resource Institute's study: “Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future,” which estimates that we will need 70% more food to meet global demand in 2050 compared to 2006. The study authors suggest that closing this massive gap will require both productivity increases and dietary shifts away from consumption of animal products, given the significant strain these products exert on the environment.

As decades of advocacy work has shown, simply pushing people to abandon beef for beans has not engendered a shift large enough to make a dent in our sustainability problem. It turns out, no matter how concerned we all are about the state of our food system, taste, price, and convenience still guide the majority of our food purchases. 

The Good Food Institute was founded on the premise that we can use this paradigm to our advantage by making the foods that are best for people, the planet, and animals as delicious, affordable, and accessible as the competition. We think the USDA has a tremendous opportunity to use its resources to advance this goal.

By supporting the development of plant-based meat and clean meat as sustainable, center-of-the-plate options, the USDA can meet its goals without waiting for consumers to significantly change their dietary and food-purchasing behavior. 

[In case you missed it: Here’s what this “clean meat” is all about]

Erin outlined multiple ways USDA research could support the solutions of plant-based and clean meat. 

I’ll share three (simplified) recommendations for each here.

USDA Research Opportunities for Plant-Based Meat:    
  • Determine which plant proteins are ideal for creating plant-based meat, in terms of cost, environmental impact, and consumer acceptance 
  • Increase yield and robustness for the crops identified 
  • Improve processing methods for turning these plant proteins into plant-based meat  

USDA Research Opportunities for Clean Meat:

[Editor’s note: For background on the technologies referenced below, click here]

  • Improve efficiency of cell culture media to reduce cost
  • Develop fully automated production platforms 
  • Develop cell lines for desired species (chicken, cows, etc.) that are capable of differentiating into the cell types needed to create meat (muscle, fat, etc.)

As Erin concludes:        

“We can identify no better way to invest public research funds, and we look forward to seeing how AFRI-funded research can lead the world in revolutionizing our global food and agricultural systems through support of plant-based and clean meat research and development.”


To read our full list of recommendations for the USDA, click here

To learn more about GFI’s work to support the development of a healthy, humane, and sustainable food supply, check out what we do.                             

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