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We can replace meat with cheap, low-carbon, unsubsidized plant-based meat and, in doing so, spare animals, the climate and our bodies the harms of conventional meat, writes Sarah Lake.
While there is overwhelming evidence that the only way to achieve climate goals is to reduce the volume of meat consumed globally, there is also a very real constraint that people need cheap food, and expensive meat replacements simply won’t cut it.
On average, plant-based meat is twice as expensive as conventional meat products, and with the cost of living crisis not over, consumers need affordable protein options.
But there’s no need to be too quick to assume that cheap protein means cheap meat, as French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau said last week in favor of factory farming.
Meatless can be cheaper than meat
In fact, meat-free proteins can be, and in many cases already are, less expensive than meat.
First, the price of meat is artificially deflated due to subsidies. EU livestock producers earn at least 50% of their income from direct subsidies, allowing industrial meat processors to pay artificially lower prices to farmers.
In total, European breeders receive 1,200 times more public subsidies than plant-based or cultivated meat producers.
In the United States, inequalities are no better: breeders receive 800 times more public money.
Compare this to alternative protein products like plant-based meats which not only do not benefit from significant subsidies, but are actually subject to higher taxes and tariffs, thereby increasing the costs of producing these products.
Even the fast food industry is aware of the potential of plant proteins
Second, many plant-based products are now as cheap to make as conventional meat, even with unequal subsidies.
They may be sold at higher markups to consumers in some grocery stores and restaurants, but production costs are almost equal for many products.
This partly explains why the use of plant proteins is growing in the fast food sector.
In the United States, Taco Bell offers its Vegan Crunch Wrap at the same price as the traditional Crunch Wrap.
In Germany and Belgium, Burger King charges the same price for its plant-based alternatives as for conventional burgers.
And they sell well: in Germany, one in five Whoppers and one in four Long Chickens are plant-based.
We should spare animals, the climate and ourselves.
Expensive meat substitutes aren’t the only alternative to factory-farmed meat.
We can replace cheap, high-carbon, subsidized meat with cheap, low-carbon, unsubsidized plant-based meat, and save animals, the climate and our bodies from the harms of conventional meat.
Sarah Lake is the executive director and co-founder of Madre Brava, a science-based advocacy organization working to align the food system with the 1.5°C climate goal.
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