Plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products are increasing in popularity and have been identified as having an important role in the much-needed transition from production and consumption of animal proteins to more plant-based proteins. Along with this increase in popularity is the need to assess the environmental and health implications of these products in the context of healthy and sustainable diets, compared with animal-based equivalents.
These products can play a role in shifting the protein transition and sustainable food systems owing to their convenience and the variety they can provide within the context of a balanced diet. However, these products are not a silver bullet solution and consideration should be given to how they are produced and how they are used in products and meals, as with any other food products. Food businesses, manufacturers and citizens must not lose sight of the benefits and importance of minimally processed plant-based proteins (e.g., legumes, pulses, nuts, grains) amid the hype of new innovations.
This report provides a high-level insight into the basis of some of the key sustainability and nutritional aspects of five best-selling plant-based meat and dairy alternative products, five minimally processed plant-based proteins and three common secondary ingredients found in alternatives.
- Highest water, GHG emissions and land savings are gained by substituting beef and pork.
- Overall, habitat loss impacts are much lower and less wide ranging for plant-based products compared with the equivalent animal-based products.
- Data gaps exist which, in some cases, challenge the direct comparison between plant-based protein alternatives and meat equivalents. This was particularly apparent for chicken substitute products and product energy use.
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