They look like meat, sizzle just as appetizingly in the pan and resemble the original even in consistency. But instead of animal ingredients, seitan, soy, grains or even peas form their basis: over the shelves of discounters like supermarkets have plant-based meat substitutes found their way out of the niche and onto the plates of German consumers.
Meatless meatballs, vegetable-based patties or vegan ham pickers have long since won over not only vegetarians and vegans, but are particularly popular among so-called flexetarians. In other words, people who eat a largely vegetarian diet, but occasionally eat meat as well.
And so it comes that Meat alternatives According to the Food Newspaper, sales have steadily increased by about 30 percent annually since 2008.
Eschewing meat for the sake of health and the environment
While some people refrain from eating animal products for ethical reasons, the number of those who do not want to give their health or the Environment switch to vegan or vegetarian alternatives for the sake of it. This is confirmed by the results of the "Ernahrungsreport 2020", a forsa study commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).
According to the survey, 37 percent of respondents said they buy vegan and vegetarian alternatives to animal products because they consider them healthy. 41 percent, on the other hand, choose meat, fish substitutes or plant-based milk alternatives because they want to protect the environment and climate.
Study: those who are processed meat, die earlier
Experts from science and environmental protection now agree that it makes sense to replace meat with plant-based products. After all, Germans consume around 60 kilograms of meat per capita every year. And thus far more than the German Nutrition Society recommends. This advises namely to 600 grams per week, i.e. about 31 kilograms per year.
Although meat contains readily available iron, selenium and zinc, it also contains saturated fatty acids, cholesterol and purines, which can have a negative effect on fat metabolism, uric acid levels and body weight. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) even classified red meat as "probably carcinogenic" one.
Researchers have repeatedly emphasized that the current state of studies does not support such a drastic conclusion. However, scientists at Harvard University found out as early as 2012: Those who eat a lot of processed meat die earlier.
Nearly 17 percent of the study participants could have prevented their deaths from cardiovascular disease or cancer if they had reduced their consumption of processed red meat.
Meat production places an enormous burden on the environment and climate
In addition, humanity's appetite for meat is sacrificing precious resources while also polluting the climate with greenhouse gases. In this country alone, around 11.4 million cattle are currently kept. Methane, which the animals produce in their stomachs, has a 25 times greater effect as a greenhouse gas than Carbon dioxide.
Globally, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production. First and foremost, cows kept for milk and meat production. The contribution of livestock farming to global warming is thus greater than that of the transport sector. In addition, meat production devours enormous amounts of water – alone up to 15.400 liters per kilogram of beef.
Federal Environment Agency examines life cycle assessment of meat substitutes
The aim is to end the suffering of slaughtered animals, improve the health of consumers and, last but not least, protect the climate and the environment: If these reasons do not speak for a complete renunciation, then at least for a Reduction of our meat consumption.
Veggie burgers and sausages should make it easier for them consumers. Changeover instead of complete abandonment. But how much better is the Life cycle assessment of plant-based substitutes compared with conventional meat?
"Meat of the Future" is the title of a recently published trend report by the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA), which addresses this question among others. Its authors have studied the environmental effects of plant-based meat substitutes, edible insects and in vitro meat, i.e. meat that is grown in the laboratory.
Environmental impact of lab-grown meat can hardly be assessed so far
The result: Compared to conventional meat, alternative products would have a better ecological balance for the most part according to the study. Compared to beef, for example, the production of plant-based alternatives produces more than 90 percent less greenhouse gases.
Water and land consumption would also be many times lower. Insect-based meat substitutes, on the other hand, fared somewhat worse than plant-based meat substitutes, while the environmental impact of lab-grown meat has so far been difficult to assess.
According to UBA report, the production of one kilogram of soy-based meat substitute emits just 2.8 kilograms of greenhouse gases, while pork at 4.1 kilograms, poultry at 4.3 kilograms and beef at 30.5 kilograms fare much worse.
Soy is more environmentally friendly than seitan
But there would also be differences among plant-based meat substitutes: if you look at the CO2 emissions during production, polluting Soy, which also forms the basis of tofu, the climate less than seitan.
The production of wheat protein would release about 50 percent more greenhouse gases on average, the Sustainable European Research Institute found. Nevertheless, the production of seitan is more environmentally friendly than that of so-called Quorn, so fermented fungal cells.
Vegan products are still a little better than vegetarian ones
That it is beneficial for the environment and climate to eat less meat is also confirmed by other scientific studies, said environmental nutrition expert Florian Antony of the oko-Institut in Freiburg to this editorial office. Using a literature review, the researcher examined what science has found so far on the environmental impact of meat substitutes.
Its findings are in line with those of the UBA. The fact that plant-based alternatives perform better than conventional meat is also due to the fact that plant proteins are used directly – without first having to make a detour via animals as animal feed. And, "Vegan varieties are once more significantly better than vegetarian, for example, egg-based," Antony says. Nutri Score: Here's how the new food traffic light works