ISLAMABAD - If people reduce consumption of beef and use more beans as alternatives, the food-related deaths could be brought down by around five percent, a report by World Economic Forum (WEF) said.

Meeting the world’s growing demand for protein nutrition through sources of protein other than meat could prevent millions of unnecessary deaths per year and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the new research conducted by the Oxford Martin School for the WEF.

The research also finds that the nutritional needs for a future world population of 10 billion can be met sustainably, and with positive health consequences, through a combination of innovative protein sources, improved production systems and changed consumer behaviour.

The report is unique in its focus on both the human health and environmental impacts of meat consumption.

For human health, the research finds that switching from beef – the base case of the analysis – to other protein sources could reduce the overall global burden of diet-related deaths by 2.4 percent, with that number climbing to 5 percent in high- and upper-middle-income countries.

In terms of environmental impact, 2010 data shows that production of beef alone was responsible for 25 percent of all food-related greenhouse gas emissions.

With demand for protein set to soar, such demand will place huge pressure on the environment. The report finds a striking difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of beef production and other sources of protein. While beef, for example, has an emissions intensity of 23.9 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per 200kcal, beans, insects, wheat and nuts emit 1 kilogram or less CO2 equivalent for the same nutritional value.

Another important message in the report is that alternative protein is only one part of the solution to make food production more sustainable and human lives healthier. For instance, the report also calls for animal feed innovation.

According to a sister analysis prepared by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019, Options for the Livestock Sector in Developing and Emerging Economies to 2030 and Beyond, another key part of the protein story is smallholder farmers. This report highlights that 75 percent of all livestock-derived foods in Asia and 72 percent in Africa in 2010 were produced by small farms.

These farmers live and work in very different circumstances. For instance, there were approximately 750 million rural poor livestock keepers living on less than $2 income per day in South Asia, East Asia and Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa.

With 70 percent or more of their total production costs going to labour and input costs, unique methods of sustainable intensification will be required. Ensuring that farmers can improve their livelihood and better manage their environmental impact of the livestock they keep will be a key factor in achieving a sustainable food system.

The provision of universally accessible, safe, healthy and sustainable protein in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals is a pressing issue that cuts across systemic challenges, such as consumption, the environment, food security, health and trade issues. It also offers a great opportunity to harness innovations in technology and science that the World Economic Forum has termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution.