Prepared by: Sofia Khan (Quantis), Jon Dettling (Quantis), Cristóbal Loyola (Quantis), Joshua Hester (Quantis), Rebekah Moses (Impossible Foods)
This year, we launched a new recipe for the Impossible Burger. We enlisted Quantis(opens in a new tab) to evaluate the environmental benefit of choosing an Impossible Burger over a burger from a cow, using science-based life cycle assessment (LCA). Here are the findings -- to be incorporated into our strategy and shared with the world.
Dietary choices can meaningfully reduce overall environmental impact. Our current livestock farming system pushes many environmental thresholds past what can be considered sustainable or scalable. Animal farming occupies about half of all vegetated land (at the expense of forests and grasslands that store carbon), uses about one third of all freshwater, contributes about one seventh of global GHGs and generates nutrient pollution2 (which creates enormous ‘dead zones’ in coastal ecosystems). In the US, beef provides just 3% of our calories but generates half of agricultural greenhouse gases and uses nearly half of the contiguous land area.1
To implement strategies needed to keep global warming below a 1.5 °C rise -- as adopted by the 2016 Paris Agreement(opens in a new tab) -- we need truly sustainable options that can satisfy the growing consumer demand for meat and dairy.
Enter the Impossible Burger®, made from plants. The average American eats approximately three burgers worth of ground beef per week, equivalent to 50 billion burgers per year. The Impossible Burger was made for this market -- made with the same nutrition, flavor, aroma, and “beefiness” as meat from a cow, but made entirely from plants and with a vastly reduced environmental impact.
HOW IT WORKS
LCAs should be considered within the broader ecological cost of relying on livestock for meat and dairy. Our LCA methodology compares the potential environmental impacts of Impossible Burger® and conventional, industrial ground beef burger -- from farm field to manufacturing gate. Here are the results per kilogram of frozen, ready-to-ship burger patty:
Compared to conventional ground beef, the Impossible Burger® reduces environmental impacts across every impact category studied in this report -- 87% less water, 96% less land, 89% fewer GHG emissions, and 92% less aquatic pollutants.
Table 1. Baseline results for a kg of Impossible Burger® and beef burger (IMPACT 2002+ v2.28).
The most significant life-cycle stages for the Impossible Burger® in terms of positive impact are ingredient production and manufacturing -- with packaging adding negligible contributions to all impact categories. For both products, the raw material production stage contributes the most to total environmental impact across the four impact indicators: aquatic eutrophication, global warming potential (measured by greenhouse gas emissions), land occupation and water consumption.
Impacts in the field are more significant than impacts from transit or production:
Aquatic eutrophication potential decreases by more than 78% due to the avoided manure emissions from raising beef cattle, avoided fertilizer emissions during feed production, and a reduction in electricity consumption by avoiding slaughtering activities.
Global warming potential decreases by more than 60%, primarily due to the avoided emissions associated with manure and enteric emissions generated over the course of raising cattle.
Land occupation is reduced by more than 99%, by avoiding reliance on pasture for grazing (the majority of beef’s land footprint). Cropland demand is also reduced from 6.8 m2 per year to 2.4 m2 per year due to the elimination of agricultural products for beef cattle feed.
Water consumption is reduced by more than 79% as a result of avoiding the irrigation used to cultivate feed crops for beef cattle.
Figure 1: Results comparison of Impossible Burger® and Beef Burger (Impact 2002+ v2.28).
There are clear environmental benefits to replacing conventional ground beef with Impossible Burger®. When consumers choose an Impossible Burger® over a conventional ground beef burger, they reduce environmental impacts across every impact category studied in this report between 87% and 96%.
Market interventions will be necessary to reduce our reliance on animal farming and attachment to resource-intensive products like steak and sausage. The growth of the plant-based sector is critical. Only with appealing, viable plant-based options like the Impossible Burger will we be able to feed our world and keep climate and biodiversity within safe thresholds for our planet.
Reid RS, et al. (2008) Fragmentation of a peri-urban savanna, Athi-Kaputiei Plains, Kenya. Fragmentation in Semi-arid and Arid Landscapes: Consequences for Human and Natural Systems, eds Galvin KA, Reid RS, Behnke RH, Hobbs NT (Springer, Dor- drecht), pp 195–224.
Steinfeld H, Gerber P, Wassenaar T, Castel V, de Haan C (2006) Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy).
Eshel G, Martin P A and Bowen E E 2010 Land use and reactive nitrogen discharge: effects of dietary choices Earth Interact. 14 1–15
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