Have you ever wondered why plant-based meat has always seemed to be made out of wheat and soy? Are you curious about why plant-based burgers have come onto the scene in a big way in 2018? Are you anxious about how we’ll feed the world sustainably in 2050 with close to 10 billion people on the planet? Yup, me too.
Fortunately, GFI Director of Science and Technology David Welch has some answers. He took the stage at The Good Food Conference to explain:
- Why plant-based meat is a big part of the solution to feeding our growing population on a finite planet;
- Why there’s so much room for innovation (hint: we’ve been using hand-me-down-materials and processes from other industries...but that’s changing now);
- How crop optimization, biochemistry, and solving backward are helping plant-based meat producers level up.
In short, there’s a lot you didn’t know you didn’t know about plant-based meat. But I’ll let David tell you about it.
(Find a text distillation below)
We’re not being very smart about efficiency.
These are the two looming questions about our global food supply:
- How do we feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050?
- How do we do it without pushing Mother Nature past her limits?
Here’s the current state of environmental and agricultural affairs: Just under 33% of earth’s surface is land. 71% of that land is habitable. We already use 50% of that 71% for agriculture. And over 75% of that is used for livestock production. Yet that land only produces 33% of our global protein supply. Does your brain hurt?
Here’s what that looks like:
Why is there such a discrepancy between the huge amount of land we allocate to livestock production and the relatively meager amount of protein calories we glean? Using animals as units of meat production is an inherently inefficient process.
Take the chicken as an example. Chickens have been relentlessly bred to reach slaughter weight as fast as possible with the biggest chicken breast possible. Nevertheless, it still requires 9 calories of chicken feed to create 1 calorie of chicken meat. Even setting aside issues around animal welfare, antibiotic use, and food safety, the inherent limitations of feed conversion in this biological system make conventional animal agriculture unsustainable.
Meat consumption is on the rise.
Despite the rising awareness of these inefficiencies and the other deleterious effects of industrial-scale animal agriculture, the world will eat more meat per capita this year than ever before.
As standards of living rise around the world, humans are eating more meat. Compounded with our growing global population, this adds extraordinary pressure to our already straining environment. From a land-use standpoint alone, by the year 2050, the demand for meat will have skyrocketed beyond what our planet is capable of producing.
Global Demand for Meat
2005 v 2050 (in tonnes)