Replacing just 20 percent of the world’s beef consumption with microbial protein alternatives could cut deforestation in half over the next three decades, according to a recent analysis. Nearly 83 percent of farmland now is used for livestock and for crops to feed them. However, only 18 percent of the calories that are consumed by humans are from meat and dairy products.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found that a 56 percent reduction in deforestation resulted in just one-fifth of beef being replaced with microbial protein. This happened in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa and proves that microbial protein might be a solution. However, even with the land that the microbial protein was saving, there was still significant deforestation happening because of the production of other destructive crops like palm oil and cocoa.

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We’ve known this for a while and study after study continues to prove that reducing the amount of livestock in the world would help curb deforestation, global warming emissions, and climate change. By reducing beef consumption by 20 percent, we could halve the emissions from the global food system just by reducing deforestation and methane emissions from livestock.

Studies have proved time and time again that meat alternatives could lower our environmental footprints, but this latest analysis is the first to say what impact this could have on our planet.

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Experts suggest that we could use microbial protein to cut the demand for meat products. Microbial protein, such as Quorn, is brewed in warm bioreactors, similar to beer. The microbes are fed sugar and we are left with a protein-dense food that tastes and feels like meat, according to the researchers. According to a 2016 paper published in ScienceDirect, microbial protein has many benefits over animal and plant proteins because the growth is not dependent on season or climate.

“The food system is at the root of a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with ruminant meat production being the single largest source,” Dr. Florian Humpenöder, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) told The Guardian. “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.”

Microbial protein is already extremely popular and could be a great way for people to transition from meat to a plant-based diet.

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“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, told The Guardian. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said.

“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” he continued. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

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