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Yeast protein: A sustainable solution for feeding the world and tackling climate change

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The earth has a problem. Global protein consumption has risen over the past 20 years and is forecast to continue growing in line with the population and prosperity1​. Animal agriculture previously met rising demand for protein but, with the sector accounting for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, further increases in the population of cows and other ruminants could undermine efforts to keep climate change within tolerable levels2​. Against that backdrop, companies and consumers are turning to yeast protein.

Interest in alternative proteins reflects clear evidence that the current situation is unsustainable. Absent any change in government policies, greenhouse gas emissions will reach 55 gigatons by 20303​. To have a 66% chance of keeping global warming below 2.0°C at the end of the century, emissions need to come in at around 39 gigatons. A globally damaging increase of 2.7°C currently looks more likely.

With the global population forecast to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050, there is scope for the situation to get worse. Population growth is projected to create a protein deficit of 250 million tons by 2050. Filling the gap by increasing animal agriculture will exacerbate global warming and increase the land needed for food, thereby causing other negative environmental effects.

There are opportunities to improve the situation in the near term. Shifting 11% of beef, pork, chicken, and egg sales to alternatives is forecast to save more than 1 gigaton of greenhouse gasses by 2035. Hitting that goal would be equivalent to decarbonizing the aviation or shipping industries. The upside forecast is for a 22% shift to alternatives, which would see emissions fall by 2.2 gigatons.

Many consumers are embracing the shift to alternatives. Most (76%) of consumers are now familiar with alternative proteins and 50% of experienced users consumed more during the COVID-19 pandemic. To accelerate the switch, manufacturers could target the 31% of consumers who regard a major positive impact on climate as a primary reason to fully switch to alternatives. Convincing those consumers that a protein is a clear win for the climate could move uptake closer to that upside scenario of a 22% switch.

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Why choose yeast protein

Microbial protein has the environmental credentials to accelerate the shift to alternatives. According to one analysis, substituting 20% of per-capita ruminant meat consumption with microbial protein globally by 2050 will half related emissions of carbon dioxide4​. Other benefits of the switch to microbial protein include reduced methane emissions and annual deforestation, plus the offsetting of further increases in global pasture area. Food production will use less space and produce less greenhouse gas.

Yeast protein has nutritional benefits, too. Because it is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids, advocates of yeast protein argue it is the best substitute for plant and animal protein. The protein has the same protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS), an assessment of the quality of a protein, as dairy protein. The PDCAAS score of yeast protein is higher than that of plant protein. Other benefits include the protein’s high content of dietary fiber and the fact it is a slow protein5​. 

Angel Yeast, the largest yeast extract supplier in the world, is helping the food industry bring the benefits of yeast protein to consumers. Having already provided its AngeoPro protein for use in meal-replacement powders, drinks powders and sports nutrition supplements, Angel Yeast’s research is now unlocking opportunities in condiments, meat products, plant-based meat, dairy beverages and nutritional foods. Projects include the replacement of soy in meat alternatives with yeast protein. Yeast uses less land and water than soy.

In parallel, the company has worked to reduce its environmental footprint, investing in 28 projects in 2021 to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 19,700 tons6​. The changes cut the consumption of water, power and natural gas per ton of yeast by between 1.4% and 3.1%.

Angel Yeast’s actions further lowered the environmental impact of yeast protein, making the protein even more attractive. Manufacturers that partner with Angel Yeast will benefit from the investments and position themselves to support the critically important shift to more sustainable proteins.

References

1.     FIAL. Protein Market, Size of the prize analysis for Australia​.

2.     Morach, B. et al.​ The untapped climate opportunity in alternative proteins, BCG Global​ (2022)​.

3.     Environment, U. N. Emissions Gap Report 2021, UNEP - UN Environment Programme​ (2021)​.

4.     Humpenöder, F. et al.​ Projected environmental benefits of replacing beef with microbial protein, Nature​ 605, 90–96 (2022).

5.     Boirie, Y. et al.​ Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A.​ 94, 14930–14935 (1997).

6.     Angel yeast to ramp up efforts in sustainable development echoing, Earth Day 2022​.

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