The ultimate goal of the proposed project is to advance knowledge on the environmental impact of plant-based protein alternatives by conducting a clear, comprehensive comparison via life cycle assessment of the environmental impact of two burgers – Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger and a typical U.S. beef burger – across the impact categories of greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, water use and land use. A parallel goal is to identify critical hotspots along the Beyond Burger supply chain in order to focus improvement strategies. The project will be divided into two phases: Phase 1 is a scan-level estimate of the environmental impacts of the Beyond Burger, and Phase 2 is a thorough ISO-compliant comparative analysis of the two burgers.
It is well established that animal-based foods, and in particular, beef, carry a heavy environmental footprint. Comprehensive assessments of plant-based alternatives, however, are limited. Beyond Meat’s “Beyond Burger” is marketed as “the world’s first plant-based burger that looks, cooks and taste like fresh ground beef.” This project will compare the environmental burden of the Beyond Burger with a typical U.S. beef burger. Table 1 makes a preliminary comparison of the primary protein source in both burgers: peas in the case of the Beyond Burger, and beef in the case of the beef patty. While somewhat difficult to trace, an estimated 17% of all beef calories produced in the U.S. originate from dairy systems, where environmental impacts are allocated between milk and beef products. Because of this allocation, beef from dairy systems often demonstrates a lower environmental impact than beef from cow-calf beef systems (see Table 1). In addition, grass-fed beef is often perceived as having lower environmental impact than beef raised predominantly on concentrated feeds. We will account for these aspects in making a comparison with the beef burger.