Substitution of beef with pea protein reduces the environmental footprint of meat balls whilst supporting health and climate stabilisation goals

Sophie Saget*, Marcela Costa, Carla Sancho Santos, Marta Wilton Vasconcelos, James Gibbons, David Styles, Michael Williams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

Recent environmental footprint comparisons between meat and plant-based meat analogues do not consider nutritional density holistically, nor the high carbon opportunity costs (COC) of land requirements, which are critical in terms of climate stabilisation targets. We performed an attributional life cycle assessment (LCA) of a 100 g serving of cooked protein balls (PPBs) made from peas (Pisum sativum), and Swedish-style beef meatballs (MBs) made from Irish or Brazilian beef. Per serving, PPB production and consumption was associated with lower environmental burdens across all 16 categories assessed. Global warming, acidification, and land use burdens of PPBs were at least 85%, 81%, and 89% smaller, respectively, than MBs. The scale of environmental advantage was sensitive to the allocation method, with biophysical allocation across cattle co-products decreasing MB burdens by at least 35%, 38%, and 46% in the acidification, climate change, and land use categories, respectively. Furthermore, PPBs have a higher nutritional density than MBs, and hence their environmental footprint per unit of nutrition was considerably lower across all 16 impact categories. Per Nutrient Density Unit, global warming, acidification, and land use burdens of PPBs were at least 89%, 87%, and 93% smaller, respectively, than MBs. Results were tested with Monte Carlo simulations and a modified null hypothesis significance test, which supported the main findings. Finally, when COC of land was factored in, the climate advantage of PPBs extended greatly. Assuming MBs equivalent to just 5% of German beef consumption are replaced by PPBs, total carbon savings including COC could amount to 8 million tonnes CO2e annually, an amount equal to 1% of Germany's annual GHG emissions. Therefore, this study highlights the potential of PPBs to meet health and climate neutrality objectives.
Original languageEnglish
Article number126447
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Volume297
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2021

Keywords

  • Carbon footprint
  • Carbon opportunity cost
  • Dietary behaviour
  • Health impacts
  • Life-cycle assessment
  • Sustainable products

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