Can a 'Bleeding' vegan burger be part of the solution to climate change?

A recent study, published in the journal Science, indicates that more than 80 percent of farmland is used for raising livestock but it produces just 18 percent of food calories and 37 percent of protein. The same research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75 percent – an area equivalent to the US, China, the European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. It comes as no surprise that the scientists behind the research assert that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact on the planet. Substituting meat protein with plant based protein seems to be the only way to go to save our planet. A bold statement? Maybe.

Our research on the topic too reinforces the idea that a plant-based diet will become mainstream in the next few years. From a health perspective, it appears evident that cutting consumption of red meat (beef, lamb, pork), particularly processed meats, brings significant benefits. Red and processed meat have in fact been linked to higher incidence of a range of diseases including coronary heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes and cancers. In 2015, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a report where processed meat has been classified as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic. IARC estimated that about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide can be attributed to diets high in processed meat. For this reason, official dietary guidelines are increasingly recommending reducing meat intake to much more modest levels. When looking at the environmental footprint we discovered that even grass-fed beef - thought to be relatively low impact - has a much higher environmental impact than plant-based food. To give just one example: beef results in up to 105 kg of greenhouse gases per 100 g of meat, while tofu produces less than 3.5 kg. At this point, one may say: “Meat and dairy are seen as important sources of protein and can provide valuable nutrients. If I stop or dramatically reduce my meat intake I may not consume enough protein.” This is a common view based on the general belief that vegetarians and vegans do not get sufficient protein. The reality is that as published in the report “Eating Better for a fair green healthy future” nearly half the protein in European diets already comes from vegetal sources and in the UK the average intake of protein amply exceeds the nutritional requirements defined by World Health Organization (WHO) for a healthy adult (0.66g/per kg of body weight per day).

Still sceptical? You cannot imagine living without your favourite hamburger? Then you may be happy to know that you can still enjoy a mouth-watering hamburger without realising it is plant-based. Beyond Meat is an American firm whose mission is to “create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein.” The company is dedicated to improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources and respecting animal welfare.  Their offer spans from burgers to sausages, chicken strings and beef crumble. The Beyond burger - the company’s flagship vegan-friendly product - sold out after its May 2016 launch in the US. What makes these burgers so special is to be found in the R&D lab in El Segundo, California. There, scientists dedicate themselves to creating the perfect flavour, aroma, appearance, and texture to make the plant-based burger indistinguishable from a meat one. An “E-nose” machine for example, isolates more than 1,000 molecules in animal and plant matter to factor which contribute to smell and taste. Scientists then work to match the meat aroma combining molecules belonging to the plant kingdom. Similarly, other scientists play with a variety of fruits and vegetables to create a very realistic pink that even turns brown during the cooking process. Beyond Burger will be stocked alongside meat in in 350 branches of Tesco, in time for Britons’ late summer BBQs. Each burger contains 20g of pea protein, coconut oil, potato starch, and uses beetroot juice to “bleed” a meaty red hue. The Beyond Burger will also go on sale in London’s Honest Burgers chain alongside beef and chicken options.

To learn more about the impact of meat and dairy on the planet: and

To discover the science behind Beyond Burger and their philosophy: and

Heike Schnell