What's at stake?

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With the world’s population tipped to reach 10 billion by 2050, demand for protein will continue to rise. Global economic, environmental and public health authorities have stressed that a diverse range of protein sources is essential to feed global populations safely and sustainably into the future.

Diversifying protein supply through the scale-up of new protein industries that complement traditional industries is already a focus for food and agriculture sectors, governments and scientists worldwide. Fortunately, agricultural and food science, culinary creativity and human ingenuity offer the ingredients to develop new, sustainable and nutritious centre-of-plate protein options, including plant-based meat, cultivated meat and products created by precision fermentation.

Here are some of the ways alternative proteins can help feed the world while contributing to a stronger food future.

Reduce Chronic Disease

In western countries like Australia and the USA, most people eat nearly three times the global average of meat. Leading causes of death in these countries - including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer - have been linked to high consumption of red meat, particularly processed meat, in a large range of peer-reviewed studies spanning decades from the likes of University of Cambridge, Harvard School of Public Health, National Cancer Institute, German Institute of Human Nutrition and more.

Reduce Threats to Public Health

The spread of infectious diseases among farmed animals can lead to disease threats to humans, as seen in the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic and the evolution and spread of influenza A outbreaks, colloquially known as “bird flu”. Additionally, faecal bacteria present during the slaughter process can cause foodborne illnesses in consumers. In the most recently published study by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, 90% of raw chicken tested was contaminated with Campylobacter and 37% with Salmonella.

Curb Antibiotic Resistance

Intensive animal farming is a key concern in the fight against antibiotic resistance worldwide. Consumer demand for affordable meat has led the industry to find ways to increase animal growth rates and boost stocking densities, requiring increased disease management. Many farmed animals receive broad-spectrum antibiotics – not just to treat specific illness, but to prevent infection and promote growth. Leading global health authorities warn that the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture industries could limit our ability to treat common infections in humans in the coming decades.

Act on Climate Change

To keep people and ecosystems healthy, a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) is essential, including from agriculture – the greatest source of emissions following the energy sector. In Australia, agriculture could be responsible for over 30% of national greenhouse gas emissions (when accurate land clearing is included, per Beyond Zero Emissions Land Use report), the majority of which are from animal agriculture. Methane emissions (which trap 80x more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period) from ruminant livestock contribute 10% of Australia’s total emissions. According to the University of Oxford, without addressing emissions from animal agriculture, it is unlikely that global temperature rises will remain below the critical tipping point of two degrees Celsius.

Protect Marine Ecosystems

The UNFAO found that existing fish populations are inadequate to keep up with demand: 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted, and could almost disappear by 2050. Commercial trawling for fish inadvertently includes 'by-catch' of sea life such as dolphins, seals, turtles, and endangered species, found to make up 40% of all global marine catches. In Australia's Great Barrier Reef catchment area, faecal, nutrient and sediment run-off from livestock grazing, combined with run-off from sugarcane crops, has been directly linked to poor water quality, destructive algal blooms, a reduction in coral biodiversity and higher coral disease susceptibility.

Protect Wildlife Habitats

One of the top drivers of land-use change is the livestock sector: each year, 13 billion hectares of forests worldwide are lost due to conversion for livestock grazing, pasture or cropland. While much land used for grazing in Australia would otherwise be unsuitable for cropping, grazing is not without impact on the landscape. Grazing lands continue to expand, driving further deforestation, leading Australia to be the only developed nation on WWF’s list of global deforestation hotspots. In recent years, 72% of deforestation and land clearing across Australia was for cattle grazing, including the habitat of endangered species like the koala.