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Life cycle assessment of animal-based foods and plant-based protein-rich alternatives: An environmental perspective

: Detzel, Andreas; Krüger, Martina; Busch, Mirjam; Blanco-Gutiérrez, Irene; Varela, Consuelo; Manners, Rhys; Bez, Jürgen; Zannini, Emanuele


Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (2021), Online First, 13 S.
ISSN: 0022-5142
Fraunhofer IVV ()

In the European Union proteins for food are largely animal based, consisting of meat and dairy products. Almost all soy but also a larger part of pulses and cereals consumed in the European Union are used for animal nutrition. While livestock is an important source of proteins, it also creates substantial environmental impacts. The food and feed system is closely linked to the planetary and health boundaries and a transformation to healthy diets will require substantial dietary shifts towards healthy foods, such as nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Extrudated vegetable meat alternatives consisting of protein combined with amaranth or buckwheat flour and a vegetable milk alternative made from lentil proteins were shown to have the potential to generate significantly less environmental impact than their animal-based counterparts in most of the environmental indicators examined, taking into account both functional units (mass and protein content). The underlying field-to-fork life cycle assessment models include several variants for both plant and animal foods. The optimized plant-based foods show a clear potential for improvement in the environmental footprints.
Development of higher processed and therefore higher performing products is crucial for appealing to potential user groups beyond dedicated vegetarians and vegans and ultimately achieving market expansion. The Protein2Food project showed that prototypes made from European-grown legumes and pseudocereals are a valuable source for high-quality protein foods, and despite being substantially processed they could help reduce the environmental impact of food consumption.