Switching from meat to mushrooms just once a week could prevent deforestation

POTSDAM, Germany — If you’re a fan of mushrooms, a new study is giving you even more reason to switch out that hamburger for a meat alternative. Researchers in Germany say switching from red meat to a fungi-based meat substitute (like mushrooms) just once a week can help reduce deforestation around the world!

A team at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) has found that changing out one-in-five meat meals for a fungi-based dinner could slash deforestation in half by the year 2050. The team adds that fungi-based meals could “massively benefit” animal welfare, save water, and reduce the pressure on land use.

The German researchers add that if meat eaters make the switch just 20 percent of the time it could have a massive impact on greenhouse gases — a main contributor to climate change.

“The food system is at the root of a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with ruminant meat production being the single largest source,” says Dr. Florian Humpenöder in a university release.

“The substitution of ruminant meat with microbial protein in the future could considerably reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of the food system,” Humpenöder adds. “The good news is that people do not need to be afraid they can eat only greens in the future. They can continue eating burgers and the like, it’s just that those burger patties will be produced in a different way.”

Eating less meat means cutting down fewer trees

The team explains that as the global demand for meat grows, producers have to create more and more pastures and cropland for these animals. This leads to the destruction of forests and non-forest natural vegetation in order to clear space for the animals who eventually become meat on your table.

“We found that if we substituted 20 percent of ruminant meat per capita by 2050, annual deforestation and CO2 emissions from land-use change would be halved compared to a business-as-usual scenario. The reduced numbers of cattle do not only reduce the pressure on land but also reduce methane emissions from the rumen of cattle and nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizing feed or manure management,” says Humpenöder.

“So replacing minced red meat with microbial protein would be a great start to reduce the detrimental impacts of present-day beef production.”

Cooking up tasty alternatives in the lab

Study authors note that biotechnology continues to advance, producing meat alternatives that are getting closer and closer to mimicking the taste, smell, and texture of the real thing.

“Alternatives to animal proteins, including substitutes for dairy products, can massively benefit animal welfare, save water and avert pressure from carbon-rich and biodiverse ecosystems,” says Dr. Alexander Popp, leader of the land use management group at PIK.

“A large-scale transformation towards biotech food requires a large-scale decarbonization of electricity generation so that the climate protection potential can be fully developed,” Popp adds. “Yet if we do this properly, microbial protein can help meat-lovers embrace the change. It can really make a difference.”

The study is published in the journal Nature.

South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

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