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Doing Veganuary? We ask experts how sustainable fake meat is

Is mainlining Quorn cocktail sausages helping the planet? We find out

Chiara Wilkinson
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Chiara Wilkinson
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In our series How green is it really?, we dig into eco-trends and find out if they’re as sustainable as we thought. This week: fake meat.

Wait, all those vegan burgers I’ve been eating aren’t destroying the planet, are they?
Well, no. But it’s worth looking into the eco-credentials of meat alternatives. Carbon footprint expert Mike Berners-Lee says that a burger made out of soya, oil, water and flavourings, creates ‘dramatically less carbon emissions’ than a beef burger. ‘It’s a colossal loss of efficiency by putting animals in the supply chain,’ he says.

Great, I’ll just get back to my burger then...
Hold up. For Sustainable Food Trust founder Patrick Holden, things are more complicated. ‘It depends how the crop was grown or how the beef was produced,’  he says.

Oh… Anything else we need to consider?
Think about where your food is coming from. ‘It’s not sustainable or secure to be dependent on food from the other side of the planet,’ says Holden. Berners-Lee agrees: ‘The classic example is Peruvian asparagus. That has to come here on an aeroplane, which is a carbon disaster.’

Where does lab-grown meat fit into all of this?
Manufacturing carbohydrates or proteins in the lab is around ‘50 times more efficient with today’s technology’, says Berners-Lee. From a carbon perspective, he says plant-protein burgers are ‘a big improvement on beef’. But ultimately, using solar panels to ‘grow’ meat in the lab is way more efficient than waiting for natural photosynthesis.

The verdict
Vegan burgers are a solid option if you’re trying eat more sustainably. But eventually, the lab-grown stuff will be good for meat-eaters and the planet. 

Read more from this series: 

How sustainable are tote bags?

Are reusable coffee cups actually good for the environment?

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