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How could veganism change the world? | The Economist

By 2050 the world’s population could approach 10 billion and around 60 percent more food could be needed to feed everyone. [Marco Springmann] The
environmental impacts of the food system are daunting. It’s responsible for about a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions and uses about 70 percent
of all fresh water resources and it occupies about 40 percent of the Earth’s land surface. Food-created emissions could increase to 50 percent by 2050 and fill up the total emissions budget that we have in order to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. Interest in vegan food has been booming across the rich world. A major study has put
the diet to the test, analyzing an imagined scenario in which the world goes vegan by 2050. [Marco Springmann] If everybody went vegan by 2050 we estimated that the food-related greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by three quarters. Cows are the biggest emission contributors. Bugs in their digestive
system produce methane and deforestation for their pasture releases carbon dioxide. These gases warm the planet. If cows were a country, they’d be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter. I’m a ninth generation farmer in this area. I grew up on a farm with
cows and feddling bulls. Jaap Korteweg comes from a long line of farmers in the Netherlands. My goal is to be the biggest butcher in the world. To be doing it for meat lovers, but if you don’t like meat, don’t buy our products. But he’s now a butcher with a difference. I’m the Vegetarian Butcher. We are hooked on the taste of meat, so the only way to change it is to develop products with the same experience without an animal We can produce beef as big as a front door with the right texture of real beef. The equipment we use in
our plant-based plants is the same as in the meat factory. The only difference is there is no blood on the floor. Jaap made the switch to plant-based meat 11 years ago. He now ships to 17 countries with annual sales of 20 million Euros. The ingredients we use are different. We use soy, we use lupine, we use wheat, we use peas. We look to the meat
product we want to copy and look for the right ingredients to get the same experience. Farmed animals are land hungry. Over 80 percent of the world’s farmland is used for animal production. But it produces only 18 percent of the world’s calories. [Marco Springmann] You need to feed a cow about 10 kilograms of mostly grains for it to grow by one kilogram. For pigs that’s about six kilogram and for chicken, three to four kilogram. So a lot of food is
wasted as feed for animals that we would then eat. Growing animal feed means more land per calorie of food is needed to produce beef than broccoli. [Marco Springmann] Two-thirds of all agriculture land is used as pastures and if you saved all those pastures if people went vegan then that would be the size of the continent of Africa that would be freed. And a well-balanced vegan diet, more varied, with less
calories could save lives. [Marco Springmann] If the world went vegan in 2050, we estimated
that premature mortality, and also all cause mortality, could be reduced by about 20 percent. Which could make the global economy healthier too. [Marco Springmann] We know how much money is used to treat certain diseases that are associated with diets. Coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. Then we get to an estimate of about one trillion U.S. dollars in 2050 that could be saved. That would be about three percent of all home health care related cost. But global meat consumption is growing around the world by almost three percent a year since 1960. Nobody like the way we treat animals in factory farms. Nobody like the situation that is not good for our health, not good for the environment, but we all like meat very much. While Jaap’s firm threatens meat farmers, meat companies and butchers are customers and partners. Meat companies don’t own the farmers, so it’s easy to change from chickens or pigs to plant-based meat. If the consumers want it
and the market want it they’re happy to change. Affordable and accessible alternatives could yet see the rich world hit peak meat and head
down the other side. [Marco Springmann] If
you look at past trends it’s probably unlikely to assume that the world would
really go vegan by 2050. We found that without
large scale dietary changes towards more plant-based
diets, we would have a very slim chance of staying below dangerous levels of climate change. But even moving towards a plant-based diet could help. [Marco Springmann] Coming
to our estimates of predominantly plant-based diet could get us probably three-quarters of the way. Governments can play a
crucial role by setting the right dietary guidelines. They can adopt procurement policies where it’s clear that the standard foods that are ordered are plant-based, healthy and sustainable. For the Vegetarian Butcher, plant-based meat is just the next step in a long history of developments in the farming world. It’s always changing in the agriculture world. A hundred years ago there were millions of draft horses to transport, to plow. Now they are threatened with extinction because we don’t need work horses anymore. In the future you will use machines to produce our meat and
the slaughter animals will be threatened with extinction too. And we only had room for wild chicken and wild pigs. And that’s the future, I hope.

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