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Study: Microbial protein beef substitute could cut deforestation in half by 2050

Study: Microbial protein beef substitute could cut deforestation in half by 2050
A packet of Beyond Meat burger patties are displayed on a store shelf in New York on May 3, 2019. On Wednesday, The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research published a research paper that found substituting one-fifth of beef with a microbial meat substitute could cut deforestation in half by 2050. File Photo by Justin Lane/EPA-EFE

May 4 (UPI) -- If just one-fifth of the meat from cattle was substituted with microbial protein, it could cut deforestation in half by 2050, a new study suggests.

According to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, this fungi-based market-ready meat alternative is similar to meat in taste and texture and involves much less land resources use.

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It would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land-use 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," said Florian Humpenöder, researcher at PIK, in a statement.

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A team of researchers from Germany and Sweden included microbial protein in a computer simulation model to determine the environmental effects in the context of the whole food and agriculture system.

They published their findings Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Humpenöder said the researchers found if they replaced 20% of the "ruminant meat per capita by 2050," annual deforestation could be cut in half.

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Microbial protein is made in specific cultures, similar to beer or bread. The microbes live on sugar and a steady temperature.

The result, the Potsdam Institute said in the research paper, is "very protein rich product that can taste, feel like and be as nutritious as red meat."

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a microbial protein meat alternative as safe in 2002.

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"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, said paper co-author Alexander Popp in a statement.

But as microbial biotech food substitutes scale up, Popp said, it also requires a large-scale decarbonization of electricity generation to achieve the full climate-protection potential.

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