University of Michigan Life Cycle Analysis Further Supports Plant-Based Meat as the Future of Protein™
In the aftermath of flooding from Hurricane Florence, which saw 3.4 million chickens and 5,500 pigs drown as a result of being abandoned and trapped in pens throughout farms in North Carolina recently, fecal waste escaped into the water system. According to the North Carolina Department for Environmental Quality, at the time of writing, pig manure and urine from 27 hog farms had spilled out of the lagoons and into the environment, due to heavy rains, posing a risk of possible contamination from E.coli, salmonella, pharmaceuticals and insecticides.
Since 2016, vegan food brand Beyond Meat has positioned its products – plant-based burgers created to look, feel, taste and cook like their animal-based counterparts – as healthier, more ethical and more sustainable.
Recently the company went a step further and commissioned researchers at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems to put its flagship product the Beyond Burger through a life cycle analysis (LCA) study to determine how its environmental impact (greenhouse gas emissions, energy, water, and land use) compares with production of a traditional beef burger. The study also sought to highlight how Beyond Meat could make the Beyond Burger product chain even more eco-friendly.
The report, which was released yesterday, found that the Beyond Burger generates 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less non-renewable energy, has more than 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a quarter pound of US beef.
To give you an idea of the real-life impact, according to a spokesperson for Beyond Meat: “On average, Americans eat three burgers a week. If they switched just one of these beef burgers to a Beyond Burger for a year, it would be like taking 12 million cars off the road and saving enough energy to power 2.3 million homes.”
And while the report acknowledged that these figures may not be “absolute” and could vary somewhat, it still deemed the plant-based burger to be far more sustainable than a traditional one (including burgers made from grass-fed beef). “There is no indication that a situation or condition may arise in which the environmental performance, as indicated by the categories considered here, of the Beyond Burger would be worse than that of a beef burger,” the report – which underwent an independent peer review process – notes.The report also highlighted areas where Beyond Meat – whose investors include Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tyson Foods – can improve on environmental performance, most notably by replacing the plastic tray in the Beyond Burger’s packaging. Replacing one traditional beef burger with a Beyond Burger for a year would be like taking 12 million cars off the road, according to Beyond Meat.
The company – which has been named by the United Nations as a 2018 ‘Champion of the Earth’ in recognition of its global sustainability efforts – has already implemented a range of green measures. These include overhauling the packaging design for the debut of the Beyond Sausage, moving from a plastic tray to a fully compostable one and thereby significantly reducing waste; installing water recirculation systems at its new Missouri production facility that reduce the company’s water usage by 80%; and installing solar tubes at its headquarters, which houses the new 26,000-square-foot research and development center, to reduce the company’s dependency on electricity.
So, what does this mean for the food sector and entrepreneurs working in it?
If consumer demand is anything to go by, the future of plant-based meats is bright – despite moves to ban terms such as ‘meat’ for any product that hasn’t come from a slaughtered animal. Data released just last week by the Good Food Institute (GFI) reveals that the US retail market for plant-based food is currently worth $3.7 billion, a growth of 17% in the past 12 months. Sales of plant-based meat have increased 23% in the past year, with the US retail market now worth $684 million.mark: Impossible Foods’ ‘bleeding’ burger is available at more than 3,000 food service locations, while Don Lee Farms sold more than a million of its organic plant-based burgers at Costco stores across the US in less than 60 days earlier this year.
Sustainability, along with health, continues to be a high priority for an increasing number of consumers. According to the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 66% of global consumers, including those on lower incomes, say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands, with Millennials being the most willing to spend extra for eco-friendly offerings.
Ethical issues regarding animal welfare concerns are also becoming a priority for consumers. At a recent conference held by GFI, Celeste Holz-Schietinger, director of research at Impossible Foods, said: “People don’t eat meat because they like the fact that animals are slaughtered, they eat it in spite of that. No one eats meat because they’re happy an animal was slaughtered.”
This is an important consideration. If consumers can get a product that mimics everything about animal-based meat – without the need for billions of animals to experience excruciating pain, terror and death – which is also accessible, affordable, healthier and more sustainable, it’s a no-brainer. The peer-reviewed LCA study, conducted by The University of Michigan, quantifies the environmental impact of the production of The Beyond Burger as having a significantly lighter environmental footprint – from a sustainability perspective – than the production of a traditional beef burger. Compared to a ¼ lb. U.S. beef burger, producing a ¼ lb. Beyond Burger requires:
- 99% less water
- 93% less land
- 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions
Nearly 50% less energy Beyond Meat’s commitment to sustainability isn’t limited to the products themselves. The brand recently implemented the following eco-friendly measures:
- Overhauled packaging design for the debut of Beyond Sausage™, shifting from a plastic tray to a fully compostable tray, significantly reducing waste
- Implemented the use of water recirculation systems at its new Missouri production facility that reduces the company’s water usage by 80%
- Installed solar tubes at its headquarters, which houses the new Manhattan Beach Project Innovation Center, reducing the company’s dependence on electricity