Shiitake instead of steak - Why vegetable protein alternatives are unavoidable
This year, on July 29, humanity has already consumed as much renewable raw material as the Earth can reproduce in total in 2021. This means that the so-called Earth Overshoot Day is almost a month earlier this year than in 2020, when it fell on August 22. However, this calculation is skewed by the lockdown measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. The extent to which the overexploitation of natural resources has actually taken place in the meantime, however, can be seen by looking even further back: in 2000, the renewable resources for the entire year were only exhausted on September 22.
According to calculations by the Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF), Earth Overshoot Day could be postponed by 17 days if humanity were to reduce meat consumption globally by 50 percent. "However, due to a rising global population and increasing affluence, meat consumption is expected to increase by another 75 percent worldwide by 2050. If we take sustainability seriously, we must therefore counteract quickly and decisively with protein alternatives to poultry, pork and beef," says Tim Bachmann, portfolio manager of the DWS Invest ESG Climate Tech. With his fund, he invests not only in companies whose products and services mitigate climate change, but also in companies that help adapt to the consequences of the greenhouse effect that are already occurring today. "Between 150 billion and 300 billion US dollars is likely to flow into such adaptation strategies each year," the ESG expert says.
Agriculture is one of the five largest emitters of greenhouse gases
But what actually makes meat consumption so resource-hungry? "For livestock farming, enormous quantities of soy and corn have to be shipped as feed from the cultivated areas, especially in Latin America, by sea freight to major buyers such as China and the US. The excessive use of fertilizers over-acidifies the soils at the feed producers, which reduces the availability of fertile land in the long term," says Bachmann.
In addition, animals are often very poor feed converters. For example, three kilograms of feed are needed to produce 500 grams of beef. For fish, on the other hand, the ratio is one. However, the "inefficient" digestion of animals not only results in lost crop yields, but also in large quantities of emissions. For example, a dairy cow emits around 235 liters of methane every day, which is equivalent to filling around one and a half bathtubs. Worldwide, livestock currently account for about a quarter of all methane emissions.
Food additives can now improve utilization, but even then the extraction of animal proteins remains inefficient. For example, an estimated 60 to 70 billion animals are slaughtered worldwide each year, but 40 to 50 percent of this amount goes to waste in the form of bones and tendons. And what isn't thrown away is perishable and must be continuously transported and stored in cool conditions. The bottom line is that this makes agriculture one of the world's top five emitters of greenhouse gases. "Against this backdrop, it is clear that the increasing global demand for protein-rich foods cannot be met from animal sources in the long term. Rather, we need plant-based alternatives," according to the portfolio manager.
Bachmann considers the production of edible mushrooms as a protein substitute to be particularly attractive. He is thinking not only of domestic species such as button mushrooms and chanterelles, but also of shiitake, maitake and eringi from Japan. In his view, these edible mushrooms are not only high-quality foodstuffs, but also very economical to grow and distribute: For example, the production and cooling process for 100 grams of edible mushrooms requires just 0.2 kilowatt hours of energy, compared with seven kilowatt hours for 100 grams of meat.
Sabina Díaz Duque
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