Together with colleagues from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), THESys Member Hermann Lotze-Campen co-authored a paper that was recently published in Nature finds. The authors analyse the environmental benefits of microbial protein, a market-ready meat alternative produced in fermentation tanks, and show that substituting just a fifth of meat from cattle with this protein could halve deforestation by 2050.

Researchers project the development of meat substitutes into the future

As livestock production has many negative environmental impacts, a dietary shift towards plant-based meat alternatives and imitation products such as plant-based meat or cultured meat and fermentation-derived microbial protein (MP) can help reduce the externalities of cattle farming. This is the first time researchers have projected the development of these market-ready meat substitutes into the future, assessing their potential impact on the environment. To find out the environmental effects of the sugar-based microbial protein, the research team from Sweden and Germany used a computer simulation model that considers those effects in the context of the whole food and agriculture system, as opposed to previous studies at the level of single products.

Until 2050, meat consumption and food demand will likely rise, along with changing dietary patterns and land use dynamics.

“We found that if we substituted 20 per cent of ruminant meat per capita by 2050, annual deforestation and CO2 emissions from land-use change would be halved compared to a business-as-usual scenario. The reduced numbers of cattle do not only reduce the pressure on land but also reduce methane emissions from the rumen of cattle and nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizing feed or manure management,” says Florian Humpenöder, lead author of the study. “So replacing minced red meat with microbial protein would be a great start to reduce the detrimental impacts of present-day beef production.”

Find out more about the publication and read the officiall press release from PIK under this link.


Humpenöder, F., Bodirsky, B.L., Weindl, I. et al. Projected environmental benefits of replacing beef with microbial protein. Nature 605, 90–96 (2022).


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