Impact of Agriculture on Climate Pollution

The IPPC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) special report titled Climate Change and Land, found that “a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions” originates from the “land,” reports Maartje Sevenster and Brad Ridoutt of The Conversation, a not-for-profit media network. This means greenhouse gases come from “farming, food production, land clearing, and deforestation.”

The report heavily focuses on sustainable farming because plants and soil can “potentially hold” large amounts of carbon. For consumers, it’s difficult to “work out” an individual product’s environmental footprint.

Meatless Burgers: There’s A Missing Piece to the Puzzle

Two vegan brands, namely Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, published reports on their burgers’ environmental footprint. According to Impossible, their burgers require 87% water and 96% less land. As well as producing 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and contributing 92% less aquatic pollutants than a beef burger.

On the other hand, Beyond Meat reports its burgers requiring 99% less water and 93% less land, including 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and 46% less energy than a beef burger. However, the aforementioned figures do not necessarily paint an accurate picture, as they do not take into account soil carbon or potential deforestation, Sevenster and Ridoutt say.

Measuring an Environmental Footprint

Vegan and vegetarian “meat alternatives” are undoubtedly becoming popular. Meatless burgers mimic the taste, nutritional value, “mouthfeel,” and the cooking process of a meat burger. The rationale of companies who produce these products is to provide them with meat-like food items “in all respects,” except their environmental impact.

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat published “life-cycle assessments” (LCA) measuring a product’s environmental aspects over the supply chain.

The above-mentioned figures may mean that Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat care about the environment. But those numbers are “simplified and don’t allow for clear interpretation,” state Sevenster and Ridoutt. The two reports calculated the land and water use differently, with the final results “not expressed in the same units.”

The results found by Impossible Foods and Beyond Burger may be true and “look extra positive” for alternative meat, but “they are not the whole truth,” Sevenster and Ridoutt remind.

Unconventional Beef and Soil Carbon

Sevenster and Ridoutt cite a study done by 152-year-old farm in Georgia White Oak Pasture, stating that the farm “offsets at least 100%” of their grass-fed beef carbon emissions and as much as 85% of its total carbon emissions. With the help of plants and compost, White Oak Pasture “sequestered 919 tons” of carbon in the soil, according to the White Oak Pasture tea’s post on their official website. Hence, the farm has a carbon footprint 111% “lower than conventional beef.”

Therefore, soil carbon plays a vital role in a food product’s carbon footprint. Sevenster and Ridoutt ask, “How would the vegan burger versus beef burger comparison look if soil carbon and biodiversity aspects had been included?” Even White Oak Pasture does not present the whole story as it did not look at water security or any environmental aspect.

It’s sad that prominent brands do not publish more “comprehensive environmental results,” even if it’s prescribed by international standards.

Are Meatless Burgers Vegan-friendly?

More restaurants, from Subway to White Castle, add plant-based alternatives from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat for the vegan and vegetarian community, writes Amelia Lucas of CNBC, a business and financial news platform.

Burger King launched its meat-free Impossible Whopper in the United States. Are vegans and vegetarians eager to take a bite? Unfortunately, they are hesitant to try Burger King’s Impossible Whopper. On August 2, Burger King came under fire when the chain’s president, Chris Finazzo, revealed that the meatless burger would be cooked in the same broiler as the regular ones, writes Leslie Patton, Deena Shanker, and Olivia Rockeman of financial and media network Bloomberg. Unless the customer requested their plant-based burger to be cooked separately.

Restaurants Brands International Inc.-owned Burger King reveals that 90% of consumers who ordered the Impossible Whopper during the trial run are meat eaters. Thus, they don’t care if the faux meat is cooked alongside regular beef. Impossible Whopper is not even listed as vegan.

Some customers do want their food to come in contact with meat during the cooking process. Unfortunately, Finazzo says Burger King will not “change how it plans to cook the burger.” It’s more convenient and easier for Burger King to cook Impossible Foods’ burgers, chicken, and patties on the same grill. “It is unlikely that the majority of customers buying the Impossible Whopper” will care whether or not the meat is cooked on the same grill, Lucas speculates. In fact, the rise of alternative meat stems from flexitarians. Flexitarians are omnivores who want to reduce their meat consumption.

Wild for Plant-Based Alternatives: Customers Must Be Critical

95% of plant-based burger buyers purchased a beef burger in 2018, as stated in a study by data analytics website NPD Group. Apparently, vegans and vegetarians represent a small fraction of the U.S. population. They are not the primary contributors.

Interestingly, 18% of the population are trying to incorporate plant-based products into their diets and 60% want more protein. Moreover, 6.4 billion burgers were ordered and there were 228 million servings of veggie burgers and sandwiches “in the year ending May” at quick-service restaurants (QSRs). Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat’s burgers may look appealing and prompt some customers to order them. However, the companies’ environmental footprint is not the whole picture.

Alternatively, customers must be prepared the restaurant’s server on how a burger or any particular food is prepared or read the chain’s online menu beforehand, suggests Brian Mastroianni of health and medical news site Healthline.

Other Sources:

  1. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-01/impossible-burgers-touching-beef-whoppers-have-vegans-on-alert
  2. https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/2019/quick-service-burger-buyers-mix-it-up-between-plant-based-and-beef/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/burger-kings-meatless-burgers-cooked-on-same-grill-as-regular-patties#The-bottom-line
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