Will plant based meat substitutes save the world?

Will plant based meat substitutes save the world?
Written by Christy Choy (Year 10)

Nowadays, climate change has been affecting our planet severely and it is one of the most imminent problems that we need to solve as soon as possible. Climate change happens on Earth because of the greenhouse effect. Normally, the greenhouse effect is an ordinary process which helps Earth to trap heat close to Earth’s surface by ‘greenhouse gases’, so that the atmosphere would be warm enough for us humans to live in. However, owing to overly burning fossil fuels such as oil and gas, there are more greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Therefore, more greenhouse effect occurs and the temperature on Earth gets higher than usual, which also contributes to different climate changes. According to a website from food navigator, Animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions; is a key factor in biodiversity loss, freshwater use, and pollution. In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, humans invented plant-based meat as one of the solutions for climate change. However, is plant-based meat good for our environment, and us humans?

Some people do think plant-based meat is good for our environment. According to the Good Food Institute website, plant-based meat emits 89% less greenhouse gas than conventional meat (kg-CO2-eq/kg-meat). By eating plant-based meat instead of conventional meat, we could also reduce 87% of water and 96% of land use. This helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, which also reduces the temperature on Earth. Moreover, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, experts estimate that approximately 146 million tonnes of aquatic animals were consumed directly by humans. However, livestock contains considerable quantities of nutrients, oxygen-depleting substances, pathogens, heavy metals, drug residues, hormones, and antibiotics. In other words, when we eat this livestock, we might consume harmful substances as well. Therefore, substituting conventional meat with plant-based meat might be a good idea in order to prevent consuming the harmful substances in human bodies, as plant-based meat doesn’t require antibiotics and doesn’t contain many harmful substances.

However, some people don’t think plant-based meat is good for us humans. According to the National Institutes of Health, plant-based meat contains a high amount of sodium. Experts tested some samples, including 50 burgers, 10 mince products, 29 sausages, 24 chicken products, nine seafood items, and 15 other meat substitutes. Only 4% of the plant-based meats were lower in sodium than their meat equivalents, the others were relatively higher in sodium. Also, according to an article, some highly processed plant-based meat, such as those from Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, is unnecessarily high in saturated fat and sodium, which may not support heart health. According to NHS, normally humans should consume not more than 2.4g (2400mg) of sodium per day. An uncooked four-ounce conventional meat has about 75mg of sodium, whereas plant-based meat has about 370-390mg of sodium. This shows that plant-based meat contains around 5 times more sodium than conventional meat. As a result, it is likely for humans who consume plant-based meat only to consume too much sodium or consume over the limit of sodium per day. If humans consume over amount of sodium, it might contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. It can also cause calcium losses, some of which may be pulled from the bone. As a result, humans might not have a balanced diet in their everyday lives. Therefore, it might be a good idea not to consume plant-based meat in order to prevent consuming an over amount of sodium in our bodies, as conventional meat contains a lower amount of sodium.

However, will plant-based meat save the world, and can this meat substitution get access or not? As the data shows above, plant-based meat could definitely save the world environmentally. Plant-based meat reduces greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and water use for producing meat. Although this seems to be a good idea, there are still some uncertainties that the general public is worried about. According to an article, a 2020 national survey suggested around 75% of consumers were not planning to reduce their meat intake in the coming year. In the survey, people expressed their uncertainty about the quality, taste, and texture of meat substitutes. Also, plant-based meat is generally more expensive than conventional meat. People are worried about substituting meat will increase their financial pressure. As a result, there are not many people who support this meat substitution, so there might be a low possibility for this to get access.

In conclusion, to a big extent, plant-based meat can save the world environmentally. It can effectively reduce greenhouse gases and can therefore help improve the situation of climate change. However, to a small extent, plant-based meat might not save the world biologically. It contains a high amount of sodium, which if overly consumed could potentially contribute to heart diseases and strokes. Moreover, most people in the general public feel uncertain about this meat substitution. Therefore, plant-based meat might have the potential to save the world, but most of the general public needs to first accept this meat substitution, then we can solve the climate change problem together.

(References available on request)