What's The Beef With Meat?

And what are the innovative solutions that will keep it on the menus of the future?

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Happy New Year Market Shakers. We’re kicking the year off by concluding the final part of our alternative protein cycle. And in typical Market Shake style, we’re ending things with a big one. The final category of alternative protein we’re diving into is….meat.

2022 was a mixed year for the alternative meat industry. The growth of plant-based meat (hereafter PBM) stalled as investors, big-meat companies, and consumers seemed to lose their appetite for it. Despite this, some companies, especially in APAC, saw significant growth and investment. Other categories of alt-protein like cultivated meat also made big advances in 2022. Begging the question: what does 2023 look like for alt-meat? 

Before we begin exploring this, let’s refresh ourselves with why meat needs an alternative in the first place, and what innovations are being developed for the future of the meat industry.  

The World Loves Meat

Over the last 20 years, global meat consumption has soared by 20%. This has come about as populations have increased in size and wealth, reflecting the correlation between a growing middle class and increasing meat consumption. The meat industry has grown in kind, achieving high levels of efficiency to ensure meat products stay affordable and plentiful. Now, according to recent data from Statista, over 80% of people regularly eat meat. 

Meat plays an important part in the human diet. It is a good source of protein and, depending on the source, contains all the amino acids that the body needs including many it cannot make for itself. Research even shows that were it not for the high-calorie, easy-to-chew properties of meat, our herbivore ancestors may have never developed head shapes that enabled our brains to grow.  

Our appetites for affordable and healthy animal products show little sign of slowing down. Global meat supplies are projected to equal 374 million tons by 2030 and as much as 570 million tons by 2050. (M)oof, that’s a lot of meat.

The Price We Pay For Love…

Yet we now know that the combination of industrial-scale meat production and excessive consumption is not good for our planet.

Meat and dairy farming accounts for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas(GHGs) emissions according to the FAO.

Zoom in and we see that for food-related emissions, beef is especially bad. It accounts for as much as 60% of the GHGs emitted from meat production. In fact, a closer look at the GHGs emitted per 100g of protein produced shows that food products from cows and lamb are amongst the biggest polluters and therefore need solutions urgently.

Greenhouse gas emissions per 100g of protein. (Credit: Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Additional calculations by Our World in Data. Additional data by Hannah Ritchie)

Human-triggered emissions like these are leading to an abnormal build-up of GHGs in the atmosphere. These gasses trap heat, warming our planet and leading to rising global temperatures that are destabilizing the earth’s ecosystems. The negative impacts of this are broad - from extreme weather conditions, and sea-level rises, to collapsing biodiversity and crop failures. 

While livestock releases lots of GHGs themselves, their rearing and processing have a big impact too. For example, the majority of deforestation in the Amazon, a natural carbon sink, is caused by beef farming. Livestock, in fact, takes up 80% of the world's arable land. It is inefficient, however, producing only 20% of the world’s calories. We would do better to fill more of our land with trees and crops that can be used for sustenance and help to remove CO2 from the air.

Beyond risking the health of our planet, meat consumption also poses risks to our own health. Several studies have linked meat consumption to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Moderation is recommended, and reduced meat consumption has been shown to bring health benefits such as the reduced risk of heart disease and a healthier gut microbiome. 

Antibiotic resistance is another concern growing amongst producers and consumers of meat. While antibiotics help reduce disease in livestock, they also contaminate meat and have been attributed to a growing number of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that can harm humans.

There are important ethical concerns associated with meat production too, which we touched on in our last series. Due to the limitations of space, we chose not to make this a focus of the article. Please see our previous articles that explore the issue.

So, when it comes to our steak, there’s a lot at stake. But what can we do to reduce some of these negative impacts?

Averting The Meatocalypse 

Meat is a big part of the global food system. The meat industry employs millions of people worldwide, and millions more depend on meat as a relatively affordable source of protein. Given the central role meat plays in the global diet, giving up on meat en-masse, as some would urge, is just not feasible. 

Like what you’re reading?

Instead, innovators big and small are working on initiatives to make meat more sustainable, whether through cow kaizen or the development of alluring alternatives. Let’s review a few of the solutions being developed to ensure that meat stays on the menu.

Regenerative Grazing 

  • Current industrial farming practices tend to lead to overgrazing whereby pasture is slowly eroded away. Regenerative grazing is a practice that has the opposite effect, promoting healthy pasture growth and revitalizing topsoil.

  • It works by keeping cattle in tightly packed herds and moving them around the pasture so that it has time to regrow once the cattle have grazed on it. This is as opposed to conventional grazing whereby animals are left to graze the same pasture more or less continuously. Regenerative grazing more closely resembles how cows used to live before they were farmed by humans.

  • Giving the grass time to regrow prevents overgrazing which means that the pasture can continually absorb carbon. Regenerative grazing also results in cows trampling their waste into a concentrated area, naturally fertilizing the soil.

Methane Reducing Feed

  • Ruminants (animals with more than one stomach that feed on grass such as cows, pigs, sheep, etc that have) produce large amounts of methane compared to other animals. Methane is 80 times more potent than CO2, contributing heavily to global warming. The sheer scale of industrial farming contributes heavily to global methane emissions.

  • Innovators in the world of animal feeds have come up with their own sustainable solution to reduce the environmental impact of livestock. Several new feeds are being developed that reduce the amount of methane produced by ruminant animals.

  • One such startup, Volta Green, from Sweden, has created a seaweed-based livestock feed that reduces the amount of methane produced by cows by 90%.

Be a source of inspiration to your friends and colleagues today:

Selective Breeding

  • Not all cows were created equal. Some are gassier than others. Researchers are now seeking genetic identifiers for low methane-emitting animals so they can be selectively bred. This should result in herds of cows that naturally emit less methane.

Environmentally Friendly Feed

  • Animal feed accounts for as much as half of the emissions attributed to livestock farming according to some reports.

  • Feed’s impact on the environment is broad and complex: 

    • Approximately half of all global agricultural land is used for producing animal feed. Part of this land could be easily used to grow crops to feed humans instead.

    • Energy used for processing feed results in 45% of GHGs emitted by livestock farming.

    • Irrigation of feed crops consumes 12% of global groundwater and surface water, and in many countries, this is reducing water quality.

    • 22% of wild fish caught goes towards animal feed, part of a broader problem of overfishing.

    • Soy is one of the primary ingredients used in animal feed, and its industrial production is resulting in deforestation and biodiversity loss as large swathes of forest and land are cleared to grow soy.

  • There are more environmentally friendly feed alternatives to industrially produced ones. UK supermarket Waitrose is substituting soy-based feeds for sustainably grown, protein-rich alternatives such as chicory and red and white clover. The company is also working towards reforming its supply chain to procure 100% soy from sustainable, certified sources.

Meat Alternatives

On the other hand, there are limits to making livestock production more sustainable. To start with, our population continues to grow, along with it the need for protein. But we only have a finite amount of land available to us, over half of which is already being used. We will eventually reach the limit of natural resources needed to nourish our population with animal protein alone. Finding a solution to this problem is urgent as global protein demand is expected to double by 2050.

Even if we implement maximum sustainable livestock farming practices, CO2eq emissions from beef will remain at an estimated 70kg per kilogram. This is too high considering the sheer number of cattle used in modern beef farming, and the fact there are more efficient sources such as plants or even chicken.

Reducing or replacing meat in our diets is therefore key to ensuring the sustainability of our food system.

One answer being adopted by a growing number of environmentally conscious consumers is veganism. Cutting meat from the equation altogether has health, environmental and ethical benefits. 

But full-time veganism isn’t for everyone, which is why we’ve witnessed a trend toward flexitarianism over the last few years. The practice of adopting a semi-plant-based diet is growing as consumers - especially Gen-Z and Millennials - choose sustainable, healthy foods that reflect their values.

As people adopt different diets and limit their meat consumption alternative protein products have boomed.  Alternative meats are plant-based or cell-cultivated protein products that mimic the appearance and sensory characteristics of meat.

Alternative meat is widely recognized as more environmentally friendly than animal meat. A comparison shows that the production of plant-based burgers is up to 93% less damaging to the environment than a regular burger for example.

Alternative meat is also free from many of the things that can harm human health such as antibiotics. 

Conversely, a lot of alternative meat products are highly processed to imitate real meat and come with their own set of health risks. The race is currently on to produce clean-label meat alternatives that taste and look like the real thing whilst being as nutritious and healthy as possible.

All of this to say is that meat alternatives have become a thriving business opportunity, attracting huge amounts of investment and generating a lot of innovation. Especially in APAC.

Alt-Meat Is Taking Off In APAC

Though the region lags behind western markets, APAC’s enthusiasm for alt-meat has analysts predicting that it will become the market leader by 2025.

APAC has good reason to seek out sustainable sources of protein. Many of the leading economies in the region have low food self-sufficiency and rely heavily on imports - largely due to the fact that they lack agricultural land. But in an era of increasingly fragile and uncertain supply chains, nations seek greater control of their food supplies. Being able to produce meat without requiring vast swathes of land and livestock is appealing to countries including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan.

APAC already accounts for more than half the world's population and is projected to grow even more. The economy of Asia is also predicted to outpace the west in the next 10 years, and as we know from above, this leads to increased demand for meat.

As a result, Asia is spawning herds of alt-meat innovators, many focussed on replicating meat. Singapore’s TiNDLE is revolutionizing plant-based chicken. Hong Kong’s OMNIFoods produces irresistible plant-based porks. Indonesia’s Green Rebel is hooking the region on mushroom meats.

Japan is also doubling down on alternative meats. All the major meat processing companies have launched lines of plant-based meats. Startups like NEXT MEATS and Green Culture are using a powerful mix of marketing and products adapted to local tastes to get Japanese consumers excited about meat alternatives. Pioneers like IntegriCulture are developing Meat 2.0 from animal cells too.

Is Alt-Meat Still On APAC Menus in 2023?

In 2022, the hype surrounding plant-based meats cooled. 

Year-on-year sales dropped in the biggest market - the US, as well as parts of Europe. PBM champion Beyond Meat’s share price tanked, forcing staff layoffs. The world’s biggest meat procedure, JBS, shuttered its US plant-based subsidiary, and the world’s biggest burger chain pulled the plug on its US vegan burger rollout.

This has left many pondering the future of not only plant-based but alternative meats in general. Are appetites in APAC waning too, where consumers have been slower to adopt plant-based meat trends? 

We seek to answer this question over the coming weeks as we explore what’s in store for alt-meat in 2023.

That’s All Folks

Thanks for reading the first article of 2023. See you next week as we dive into the state of the global market for alt-meat.

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