Asia's appetite for meat and climate control: what next? - BNP Paribas CIB
Friday 08 March 2019

Despite profound changes and a shift in attitude towards a meatless future, meat remains the leading hidden culprit of climate change.

This article is also available in Simplified Chinese.

The debate over fossil fuels has dominated headlines about climate change for so long that a silent culprit has remained relatively overlooked: animal agriculture. As Asian incomes rise and prosperity grows, the region has overtaken the US and Europe as the world's biggest meat producer, as well as carbon emitter.

Accounting for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than those of the combined exhaust fumes of all transport, at 13 percent – mounting evidence now reveals that animal agriculture has a more significant impact on the environment than previously thought.

Deforestation, land and water degradation, waste and harmful gas emissions are the chilling results of raising animals for food, causing a devastating effect on many of our ecosystems and consequently making our livestock sector the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions after the energy sector.

The driving force behind this issue? Our world's super-sized appetite for meat.

In udder news

Propelled by income growth, a rapidly growing population and a rise in urbanisation, the booming demand for meat has led to large increases in global livestock production, particularly cattle raised for beef and dairy, which is more resource-intensive. Raising cattle for food makes up an astounding 65% of all livestock emissions.

Unsurprisingly, with highly diverse income levels, demographics, dietary preferences and food spending across Asia Pacific,the region now accounts for 40 to 50 percent of global meat production and this ongoing appetite is only projected to accelerate to meet rising urban populations and the emergence of new middle-class consumers.
"Global food demand could double by 2050, largely driven by China, India and other Asian countries."
By 2030, the worldwide population defined as "middle class" or "rich" is expected to reach 5.3 billion, up from 3.8 billion today – with almost nine in 10 of these new middle-class consumers in Asia-Pacific. To meet the global demand for food, an additional 70 million hectares of land would be needed by 2050 – greater than the entire land mass of Thailand.

At this rate, global food demand could double by 2050, largely from the developing economies of China, India and other Asian countries. Annual meat production is forecasted to increase 72 percent from 218 million tonnes in 1997-1999 to 376 million tonnes by 2030.

Not only will this surge place mounting pressure on our food systems and cause further disruption to our environment, but it will also become increasingly challenging to provide the population with safe, nutritious and affordable food.

Tasting the future one fake beef burger at a time

Underestimating the impact of animal-based production systems means we are also underestimating how much needs to be done to combat climate change. Providing Asia and the rest of the world with safe, nutritious and affordable food requires a fundamental change in our consumption habits, making a conscious shift towards more sustainable approaches.
The most impactful way to do this would be to shift our diets away from meat, which could slash in half per capita greenhouse gas emissions related to eating. Enter the Impossible Burger, also known as the 'the fake meat that bleeds', a plant-based burger that looks, feels and tastes exactly like ground beef. 

"Continuing meat consumption at current rates will have a devastating impact on our planet."
Making the impossible possible, in 2016, the United States-based Impossible Foods engineered a meatless burger that is not only healthier, but comes without the destructive impact of livestock. By using all natural ingredients and one magic ingredient called heme, the scientists behind this revolution were able to push the boundaries of new technologies and food security without compromising on the core elements of beef. Top investors, including Bill Gates and Li Ka Shing, Singapore's sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings and Google Ventures, have all taken a big bite out of the meatless burger and invested in the meatless start-up. Impossible Foods says it will shape the future of the planet and set the bar high for many more innovative, sustainable and alternative protein sources. After launching in the United States, Impossible now wants to secure half its sales in Asia, where many of its high-profile financial backers are from. It has also targeted Asia's high-end restaurants and celebrity chefs to pursue its ambitious expansion plans across the region.

The rise and rise of Asia's growing consumer conscience is creating business opportunities closer to home as well, with David Yeung from Hong Kong's Green Common credited with helping to change the way that Asia thinks about food.

"We know what people crave in Hong Kong; this is where we can add value by translating these products for the Asian palette," Yeung told CNBC recently.

Yeung has pioneered the "flexitarian" movement with his promotion of Green Monday – a startup that promotes simple, low-carbon, sustainable living – in Hong Kong, which has the highest per-capita consumption of meat and seafood in the world, according to Euromonitor. His Beyond Meat's 100% plant-based products are now found at restaurants and in supermarkets across the region.

Yet, despite these profound changes and a shift in attitudes towards a meatless future, meat is still king, remaining largely ingrained in diets across many communities in the world. The food and agriculture system will continue to face significant challenges, but one thing is clear: the world cannot continue to consume meat at such alarming rates without a devastating impact to our planet.  


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