PROFETAS protein foods, environment, technology and society
Societal transitions
Current issues

Societal transitions 

Due to continually increasing world population and standard of living, certain human activities with huge environmental impacts - rather than gradual improvement - require a radical systems change: a societal transition. Recognized targets for transition include the production and consumption of food, energy and water (IHDP).

Food production appropriates about 75% of globally available freshwater, 30% of all ice-free land and 20% of available energy, so extra effort is required here. Within the food area, meat production has a disproportionate environmental impact via both resource utilisation (land use, biodiversity, freshwater) and pollution (climate change, pesticides, eutrophication).

In PROFETAS 20 multidisciplinary researchers studied the environmental, technological and social feasibility of the transition from the currently predominant consumption of animal products towards a more plant protein foods (NPFs) oriented society

PROFETAS overall conclusions

The PROFETAS results show that the environmental benefits of a transition from animal to plant protein may be a factor 3-4 for land and energy requirements, but even 30-40 or more for water requirement and acidification. The geographical distribution of potential environmental and economic benefits strongly depends on the actual protein crop selected.

Furthermore, the fact emerges that the
protein transition should not be considered in isolation, since it is tightly coupled to the biomass transition (towards sustainable production of energy and materials) and to the water transition (towards more sustainable use of freshwater). This makes their combined approach a case of win-win-win.

In addition to improving sustainability, the protein transition holds promise to improve health both in developing countries (increased availability of protein) and in developed countries (decreased obesity and meat-related disease). Another issue is animal welfare. It should be realised that zoonotic diseases - such as avian influenza - are strongly associated with large numbers of poultry, pigs and humans living closely together. Under such conditions of intensive livestock production - extant in South East Asia - avian viruses can easily adapt to humans as hosts. Therefore, the current practice of intensive production increases the frequency of global epidemics.