Humanity can produce 14 times more protein on the same amount of land by switching from meat to plant proteins, helping to feed a growing world population in 2030, new research has shown.

It is estimated that the same area of land can yield enough beef to satisfy the protein needs of 2% of the world’s population in 2030, while protein crops can satisfy the protein needs of 28%.

A report by consultancy Profundo commissioned by US environmental group Madre Brava compared the use of farmland for the production of beef to a mix of beans, oats, peas and soybeans.

Given that some land for rearing cattle is unsuitable for crop production, such as pastures on hills, the shift from beef to plant proteins could additionally free up 1.3 million km2, the report states.

“Meat is a very inefficient way of producing cheap, sustainable proteins for a growing world population.

“For food security reasons, world leaders should be looking at boosting the production of protein crops and reducing the production of beef,” according to Profundo research.

Meat consumption

Research by leading health scientists and nutritionists at EAT-Lancet has shown that Americans and Canadians eat six times as much red meat as recommended.

EU and UK citizens as well as Argentinians and Brazilians eat four times as much. This indicates that high rates of meat consumption are concentrated in a few regions, the report states.

More than 100kg per person per year is consumed in the US, Australia, Argentina, and Brazil, an average of 75kg in the EU and the UK, and less than 5kg in India, Bangladesh or Burundi.

A growing world population, increasing incomes in developing economies, and a higher life expectancy will lead to further global meat consumption rises in the years to come, the report states.

The current food system incentivises producing and selling “huge amounts of industrial meat” rather than more sustainable, healthier proteins, Madre Brava managing director Nico Muzi said.

“Governments and food retailers can play a critical role in ensuring that sustainable proteins are the cheapest, easiest choice for consumers when doing their food shop,” he added.

Emissions reduction

Replacing 30% of meat with plant protein could offset almost all global aviation emissions, and save 7.5 million swimming pools worth of water every year, the report found.

In countries where meat consumption is above the recommended levels substituting 30% of beef, pork and chicken with a mix of whole foods and novel plant-based meat products could lead to net savings of 728 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year.

The projections of impacts from a global 30% reduction in meat production by 2030 against a 2021 baseline are concentrated on production cuts in high-consuming regions.

These are the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Argentina, Brazil, the EU and the UK. Africa, all of Asia (except China) and most of Latin America are excluded.

This shift would free up 3.4 million km2 of farmland, an area the size of India, which then could be returned to nature to boost biodiversity and absorb carbon emissions, the report states.