May 19, 2022

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Beyond Meat: Insects, Cultured Milk and Fungi to Save the Planet |  Science

Beyond Meat: Insects, Cultured Milk and Fungi to Save the Planet | Science

At some point in the remainder of the century, the food production system will collapse. Its most important link is meat, especially beef. Its production doubled in sixty years, According to the data of the Food and Agriculture Organization. 80% of farmland is for cows, pigs or chickens, either as pasture or for growing grain to feed. Agriculture is responsible for a third of the emissions causing climate change, with livestock once again becoming the main source of emissions. This entire scenario will be bypassed by the increase in world population and improvement in the standard of living, and therefore in the diet. They either stop eating so much meat or look for other sources of animal protein. Science already points to several alternatives: insects, laboratory meat or feeders of bacterial origin. Various models suggest they are planet-friendly or more vegetarian-friendly.

Scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Assessment (PIK, in Germany) and the World Botanical Center (Taiwan) have modeled what would happen if a percentage of the meat in the diet were changed to substitutes trying to imitate them. The work was published a few days ago in temper natureOne of these alternatives focuses on proteins taken from fungi. Isabelle Wendell, PIK researcher and study co-author, explains cucumbers: “There are plant types, such as soy burgers, and animal cells grown in a Petri dish, also known as cultured meat. But there are also microbial proteins derived from fermentation.” For her, they are the most promising. With its high protein content, its texture is reminiscent of a steak thanks to the filamentous structure of the mycelium of fungi such as Fusarium veninatum. In addition, it differs from vegetable alternatives such as tofu or seitan, and among its components are a series of essential amino acids. There are already hot dogs, hamburgers, and something similar to St. James made from the proteins of mycobacterial fungi.

“Microbial protein requires much less farmland than ruminant meat to provide the same amount of protein”

Isabel Wendel, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Studies

But the most important thing is that its production can be largely separated from agricultural production. It does not require deforestation of new surfaces and will free up the millions of hectares now planted. “Our results show that even with sugar as a raw material, microbial protein requires much less farmland than meat of ruminants to provide the same amount of protein,” says the German scientist.

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Wendell and colleagues’ work envisions that by 2050, a certain proportion of meat in the diet will be replaced by these microbial proteins. If, within 30 years, 80% of animal proteins could be replaced by fungal proteins, the problem of global deforestation would have almost disappeared, especially in the Amazon and Congo basins, which are hardest hit today. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the reduction compared to the scenario of meat production without changes would be 87%. Although new land must be set aside for the cultivation of sugar cane or sugar beets (the sugars are necessary for fermentation), it can be taken from reclaimed pastures and forage crops. Next to, With fewer cows ruminating, there will be fewer methane emissionsIt is a gas with a heating capacity of 23 times that of carbon dioxide.

Even in the less ambitious scenario, with 20% replacement, the improvement would also be very significant. “We see that if we replace 20% of ruminant meat per capita by 2050, deforestation and CO2 emissions from land use change will be halved compared to the conventional scenario,” says Florian Humpenöder, also of PIK and first author of the study. Reducing livestock numbers not only reduces pressure on the land, but also reduces methane emissions from livestock and nitrous oxide emissions from enriched feed or manure management.

“Foods with the greatest potential are turning to insect flour and cultured milk”

Rachel Mazak is a researcher at the Institute of Science for Sustainability at the University of Helsinki

Rachel Mazak, a researcher at the Institute of Science for Sustainability at the University of Helsinki, published a paper at the end of April about incorporating so-called new foods into the European diet and how it could help reduce food’s environmental impact. Produce. In an email, he summarizes the results of this work: “Foods with the greatest potential turn to insect meal and cultured milk.” But it also highlights microbial proteins, which were selected “for their low impact and nutritional profile that meets our nutritional requirements”.

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Search published in Nature Food, concludes that replacing proteins of animal origin with those provided by these new foods could reduce the potential for climate change associated with these proteins, and water and land use by more than 80%. When comparing a vegan/vegetarian diet with a diet rich in insects, fermented dairy, and fungal proteins, this study found a slight advantage of the former over the latter, but, Mazac says, with a vegan diet “people will also be able to stay healthy, feel fulfilled and have Less impact on the environment.”

Sausage-type sausage made with microbial proteins at Quorn Foods (UK).Nigel Rhodes Bloomberg

From a nutritional point of view, it appears healthy to drastically reduce consumption of animal products in current European diets. Mazac and Humpenöder have now shown that these alternatives to animal proteins are also good for the planet. A famous supermarket chain that has been selling insects for five years. The nutritional corners of many grocery stores have had a variety of plant-based meats for a long time, and the European Union in February authorized the marketing and sale of plant-based meats. domestic achetaAnd cockroaches as food. But sneaking into the real diet of the majority is another thing.

For Ascensión Marcos, a research professor at CSIC’s Institute of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition (ICTAN), more research is still needed for these models to have real application, she says, “many unknowns still need to be resolved.” One of them is the palatability of these new foods. “If they don’t like it, they don’t like it,” he recalls. Acknowledging that this is essentially a cultural thing, he comments, “It is one thing to give insects to an animal and you eat it, and it is another to eat it.” However, remember that there are historical examples of cultural changes that have reduced or eliminated aversion to certain foods. He mentions the case of pork in East Asia or “seafood, which for the Japanese was like eating insects.”

Another objection raised by Marcus goes beyond science. “Whether we like it or not, we are omnivores and we have to eat everything.” He concludes that the real problem is that our diet is very poor, we eat too much protein, too few carbohydrates and too much fat; This is taking its toll on us and on the environment and the food industry is not helping.”

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