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Swapping Irish beef meatballs for plant alternatives cuts emissions by up to 90pc, study finds

Reducing consumption of Irish beef can significantly curb greenhouse-gas emissions and the impacts of global warming, researchers say

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Plant-based meat alternatives like pea 'meatballs' have substantially lower emissions than actual meat. Photo: Stock.

Plant-based meat alternatives like pea 'meatballs' have substantially lower emissions than actual meat. Photo: Stock.

Plant-based meat alternatives like pea 'meatballs' have substantially lower emissions than actual meat. Photo: Stock.

Switching  meatballs made from Irish beef for veggie alternatives could cut carbon emissions by 90pc, new research has found.

The study, part of an EU-wide probe into the sustainability of popular foods, found that ‘meatballs’ made from pea protein were the best substitute in terms of reducing overall environmental impact.

Researchers also found that the perception that Irish beef has a much lesser effect on climate and the environment than its Brazilian rival does not stack up.

Scientists from Trinity College Dublin led the research, along with colleagues from University of Limerick and teams in Wales and Portugal.

They applied their findings to dining habits in Germany and concluded that swapping just one in 20 meatballs for a pea protein variety could save eight million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year – 1pc of Germany’s annual total.

Lead scientist Professor Michael Williams, of Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, said the factors in favour of the pea protein version were multiple.

“In terms of improving nutrition and the environmental sustainability of our diets, increasing the consumption of plant protein alternatives to red meat represents a win-win scenario,” he said.

“Plant protein-based foods provide more fibre and a higher nutritional density, and – through virtue of their ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen from the atmosphere – impart a significantly lower environmental impact than animal protein products.”

The study not only compared beef with plant-based meatballs but also analysed the climate and environmental impacts of Irish beef compared with Brazilian beef.

Irish farmers have repeatedly claimed that any move to cut cattle numbers to combat greenhouse gas emissions will result in more Brazilian beef imports with a higher environmental impact.

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The researchers found the Brazilian beef had a slightly higher carbon footprint and that switching from it to pea protein would cut emissions by 93pc compared to 90pc for Irish beef. Brazilian beef also needed more land per kilogram of meat produced than Irish beef.

But Irish beef relied on more fertilisers to cultivate grassland and the industry generally used up more energy.

It also produced much more ammonia which damages air quality, and it reduced water quality in rivers, lakes and coastal regions through the effect of animal waste and fertiliser run-off.


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