by Marion Nestle
Nov 7 2022

Conflicted study of the week: plant-based meat alternatives

A big question for discussion is whether plant-based meat alternatives are better for health and the environment than regulat meat.  Are they?  Here is one study.

Plant-based animal product alternatives are healthier and more environmentally sustainable than animal products.  
Christopher J. Bryant.  Front Nutr.  2022 Jul 19;9:934438.   doi: 10.3389/fnut.2022.934438. eCollection 2022.

Rationale:   There are strong reasons to move away from industrial animal agriculture for the good of the environment, animals, our personal health, and public health. Plant-based animal product alternatives (PB-APAs) represent a highly feasible way to reduce animal product consumption, since they address the core consumer decision drivers of taste, price, and convenience.

Method: This paper reviews 43 studies on the healthiness and environmental sustainability of PB-APAs compared to animal products.

Findings:  In terms of environmental sustainability, PB-APAs are more sustainable compared to animal products across a range of outcomes including greenhouse gas emissions, water use, land use, and other outcomes. In terms of healthiness, PB-APAs present a number of benefits, including generally favourable nutritional profiles, aiding weight loss and muscle synthesis, and catering to specific health conditions.

Conclusion:  As more conventional meat producers move into plant-based meat products, consumers and policymakers should resist naturalistic heuristics about PB-APAs and instead embrace their benefits for the environment, public health, personal health, and animals.

Conflict of interest: Although there is no specific conflict of interest or funding related to this project, the author is an independent research consultant and works with alternative protein companies.

Comment:  You would think that plant-based meat alternatives would be better for the environment than beef but without an agreed-upon method for assessing environmental impact, much depends on researchers’ assumptions.  This literature review was done by a consultant who does research for companies making alternative-to-meat proteins.   His conclusion based on his study—the takeover of small plant-based meat companies by Big Meat is a Good Thing—is predictable from his conflicted interest.  I’d prefer an independent assessment of the environmental implications of these products.


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