The public procurement of plant-based proteins around the world could encourage a shift to net zero in agriculture, researchers have revealed in a new report.
The ‘The Breakthrough Effect’ study, carried out by sustainability consultancy Systemiq in collaboration with the University of Exeter, reveals encouraging the uptake of alternative proteins in public spaces such as schools, prisons, hospitals and government offices could boost demand and help plant-based meat achieve price parity with animal-derived meat.
The public procurement of plant-based proteins was one of three “super-leverage points” mentioned in the report. A leverage point is where a small intervention could bring a significant effect, cutting emissions in one key sector as well as encouraging faster changes in other areas of the economy. The other two super-leverage points include: mandates for the sale of electric vehicles and mandates that require green ammonia to be used in the production of agricultural fertilisers.
“High-emitting sectors of the economy do not exist in isolation – they are deeply inter-connected, and zero-emission solutions can influence transitions in multiple sectors simultaneously,” said Simon Sharpe, Director of Economics for the UNFCCC Climate Champion and a Lead Author of the report.
According to the study, public procurement currently makes up 5-6% of food sales in the UK and EU. Making plant-based proteins available to large numbers of consumers and therefore improving accessibility to the products would help to change social norms surrounding meat consumption, it says.
Redirecting public procurement to promote the consumption of plant-based meat would not involve major additional government spending either as existing budgets can be redirected towards alternative proteins instead of animal proteins.
The study also reveals this leverage point would help to lower carbon transitions in the agricultural sector by reducing emissions from livestock farming as well as from land conversion for meat production. If the leverage point is successful, the researchers state 400 to 800 million hectares of land previously used for meat production could be freed up – which is equal to 7-15% of total land currently used for agricultural purposes.
Despite the proven benefits of increasing consumption of plant-based proteins, the study highlights that: “…as a nascent industry, there is a lack of historical data to determine the relationship between increased alternative protein production/consumption and decreased animal protein/production/consumption and associated land use change.” The researchers still urge policymakers to act promptly, emphasising they still see the achievement of this leverage point to be a “strong possibility” and that “decisions will have to be taken in the face of uncertainty”.