Fungus Fridays could save many trees and bite off greenhouse gas emissions. Eating one-fifth less red meat and instead eating microbial proteins derived from mushrooms or algae can reduce annual deforestation half by 2050, researchers report on May 5 in nature.
Raising cattle and other ruminants contributes methane and nitrous oxide to the atmosphere, while clearing pasture forests adds carbon dioxide (SN: 4/4/22; SN: 13.7.21). So we are looking for hunting for environmentally friendly substitutes, such as laboratory-grown burgers and cricket breeding (SN: 20.09.18; SN: 5/2/19).
Another alternative is the microbial protein, made from cells cultured in a laboratory and fed with glucose. Fermented fungal spores, for example, produce a thick, doughy substance called mycoprotein, while fermented algae produce spirulina, a dietary supplement.
Cell-grown foods require sugar from crops, but studies show that mycoprotein produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and uses less land and water than raising cattle, said Florian Humpenoder, a Potsdam climate modeler. Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. However, a full comparison of the future impacts of food on the environment also requires consideration of changes in population, lifestyle, food patterns and technologies, he said.
Thus, Humpenöder and his colleagues included projected socio-economic changes in computer simulations of land use and deforestation from 2020 to 2050. They then simulated four scenarios, replacing microbial protein with 0 percent, 20 percent, 50 percent or 80 percent of the world’s diet with red meat until 2050.
The team found that low substitution is a long way off: only 20 percent microbial protein substitution reduces annual levels of deforestation – and associated CO2 emissions – by 56 percent from 2020 to 2050
Eating more microbial protein could be part of a portfolio of strategies to tackle climate crises and biodiversity – along with measures to protect forests and decarbonise electricity production, Humpenoder said.