All the protein we need to feed the world can be produced on an area of land smaller than London, or the micro-state of Andorra. A food revolution too good to be true? Not according to RePlanet, the group that builds on precision fermentation to pull it off.
If we replace animal farming with protein from microorganisms, more than 3/4s of the world’s farmland could be rewilded to meet our climate goals, says green group RePlanet.
The Reboot Food campaign claims that COP27 efforts to keep the Paris Agreement alive are ‘futile’ without such a move. Author and activist George Monbiot calls for world governments to urgently invest in precision fermentation – a key technology in microbial protein production.
“The elephant in the room at COP27 is the cow. But thankfully this time, there really is a recipe for success. By rebooting our food systems with precision fermentation we can phase out animal agriculture while greatly increasing the amount of protein available for human consumption.” George Monbiot
What precision fermentation does
Precision fermentation (PF) creates biologically identical milk, cheese, egg whites, and other animal proteins using genetically engineered microorganisms fermented in tanks.
It is a refined form of brewing that uses microorganisms to make ingredients we currently get from animals or plants. While our ancient ancestors made bread, cheese, and beer by using the microorganisms that were randomly present in their environment, today’s precision fermentation can genetically reprogramme microorganisms
to make exact nutrients. Here’s how to do it:
- Choose a specific microorganism such as a yeast or bacteria.
- Genetically engineer the microorganism with the DNA sequences coding for the amino acids which form the protein you want to create – such as the proteins found in cow’s milk: casein and whey.
- Put the microorganisms in a fermentation tank with some simple nutrients and sugars.
- Ferment! (Just like beer.)
- Harvest food-grade ingredients that are biologically identical to those you’d get from an animal and mix them up into sellable familiar products (like dairy milk, cream or cheese…).
According to a new analysis in the Reboot Food report, protein from microorganisms uses up to 40,900 times less land than beef, meaning that such ‘ farm-free foods’ could produce the entire world’s protein requirements on just 420km2 of land – an area of land smaller than Greater London*.
91% less emissions
This would not only save 3/4s of global agricultural land for nature restoration and carbon drawdown but would also release up to 91% less greenhouse gases per calorie produced.
The Reboot Food manifesto lays out a series of 10 policies that world governments should adopt to make COP27 a success and calls for ‘land sparing’ and planetary scale rewilding to be the new objective in agricultural decision-making. The 10 policies include: investing 2.5% of GDP over 10 years into food innovation, ending all subsidies for animal agriculture and subsidizing plant-based foods instead, banning the advertising of carbon-intensive meat, limiting patents on new food technology, and legalizing gene editing.
Such moves are urgently necessary, says RePlanet, because agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas than all cars, airplanes, and ships on the planet, is the cause of 80% of deforestation this century, and is the single biggest cause of the 6th mass extinction of species. Most of this harm is caused by the high land usage of animal agriculture which occupies 28% of the planet’s ice-free land, more than all the world’s forests combined.
Precision fermentation is not a new technology
Precision fermentation is already used to produce 99% of the global insulin supply and 90% of the global rennet. Today PF milk proteins and PF egg whites have already reached the US grocery market.
Joel Scott-Halkes, Campaigns Director of Replanet speaking from COP27 says “COP27 has shamefully failed to address the emissions and land use of animal agriculture. Incrementalism in farming is no longer an option – we need revolutionary food production. In the face of catastrophic climate breakdown, precision fermentation and other highly land efficient forms of food production are the bold solutions we need”
Emma Smart, Coordinator of Replanet UK says “The precision fermentation revolution is as significant and consequential for our natural world and climate as the dawn of farming was 10,000 years ago. Only this time, today’s food revolution promises a new age for non-human life of regeneration not devastation.”
Mark Lynas, climate author and RePlanet Senior Strategist speaking from COP27 says: “The mainstream environmental movement’s agricultural policies are making things worse not better. Organic and ‘regenerative’ farming methods encourage agricultural sprawl and have become smokescreens for the livestock industry. It’s time for sensible environmentalists to unite behind food production techniques that use less land, not more.”
*For all calculations and a full set of peer-reviewed references for the figures here within please see Reboot Food Full Report here.