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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Projected environmental benefits of replacing beef with microbial protein

Humpenoeder, Florian; Bodirsky, Benjamin Leon; Weindl, Isabelle; Lotze-Campen, Hermann; Linder, Tomas; Popp, Alexander


Ruminant meat provides valuable protein to humans, but livestock production has many negative environmental impacts, especially in terms of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and eutrophication(1). In addition to a dietary shift towards plant-based diets(2), imitation products, including plant-based meat, cultured meat and fermentation-derived microbial protein (MP), have been proposed as means to reduce the externalities of livestock production(3-7). Life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have estimated substantial environmental benefits of MP, produced in bioreactors using sugar as feedstock, especially compared to ruminant meat(3,7). Here we present an analysis of MP as substitute for ruminant meat in forward-looking global land-use scenarios towards 2050. Our study complements LCA studies by estimating the environmental benefits of MP within a future socio-economic pathway. Our model projections show that substituting 20% of per-capita ruminant meat consumption with MP globally by 2050 (on a protein basis) offsets future increases in global pasture area, cutting annual deforestation and related CO2 emissions roughly in half, while also lowering methane emissions. However, further upscaling of MP, under the assumption of given consumer acceptance, results in a non-linear saturation effect on reduced deforestation and related CO2 emissions-an effect that cannot be captured with the method of static LCA.

Published in

2022, volume: 605, number: 7908, pages: 90-96

Authors' information

Humpenoeder, Florian
Potsdam Institut fur Klimafolgenforschung
Bodirsky, Benjamin Leon
Potsdam Institut fur Klimafolgenforschung
Weindl, Isabelle
Potsdam Institut fur Klimafolgenforschung
Lotze-Campen, Hermann
Potsdam Institut fur Klimafolgenforschung
Lotze-Campen, Hermann
Humboldt University of Berlin
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Molecular Sciences
Popp, Alexander
Potsdam Institut fur Klimafolgenforschung

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG2 Zero hunger
SDG12 Responsible consumption and production

UKÄ Subject classification

Food Science
Environmental Sciences

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