Protein is everywhere. It is the new big fad diet. Increasingly we are seeing people talking about the need to eat more of it. I heard a lady walking down the street on her phone saying how she felt a little tired and needed protein.
Companies have spotted this. It is even being added to breakfast cereals. I have a feeling we might not really understand protein, where it comes from, what it does to us, the planet or how much we really need.
These are all subjects both WWF and the Protein 2040 challenge are looking at. In a nutshell protein is our body’s building block. It is an essential part of our diet to ensure our body and brain works. How much you need depends on sex and age. Apparently to calculate how much you need you multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8 to get to the number of grams of protein you should consume every day.
In the UK nobody is protein deficient and most of us over consume protein. A recent WRI report demonstrates most of us over consume it by 70%. We are not alone this is a common problem though out the rich developed world.
Where can we get protein?
Contrary to popular belief it is not just found in meat. It is readily available in a many food stuffs. It is perfectly possible to be a vegan and eat all the protein you need. Basically all foods made from meat, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, tofu, wheat germ and even soba noodles contain protein.
What is the problem?
There is an issue with this drive to increase protein consumption. We tend to primarily get it from meat. Meat production is one of the drivers behind climate change, water pollution, land use change and biodiversity loss. Increasingly we are consuming more dairy, which has similar impacts. According to the latest UK government dietary advice, the Eatwell Guide, our diet should contain only 8% dairy, currently it is around 15%.
This problem is compounded by the state of oceans, with 85% overfished or fished to capacity. Then there is the rise of aquaculture to help feed a growing demand for fish.
Intensive livestock farming and aquaculture rely to a greater or less extent on industrial production systems. These need feed, a large amount is soy. Less than 15% of the soy grown is eaten directly by people, mostly hidden cereals and other processed foods, including chocolate. Only a small % is eaten as sauce or tofu. Soy production is the driving force behind land use change in South America, the USA and increasingly it will be in parts Sub-Saharan Africa.
The cumulative impact is huge and based on business as usual will get worse, if we exacerbate the problem by demanding more animal sourced protein.
Protein 2040 and WWF
This is why we are part of the Protein 2040 Challenge. It is the first global coalition exploring how we feed nine billion people enough protein in a way which is affordable, healthy, equitable and good for the environment. This project, convened by Forum for the Future is seeking to address this tricky and emotive space. It is a multi-stakeholder initiative seeking to address the often polarized food debate around meat and plant based proteins and consumption and production. Together, through a process that involved over 250 stakeholders we have identified a number of key opportunities and challenges. These include plant based protein in the developed and developing world, aquaculture, food waste, soil health and alternate animal feeds. The project truly is ground breaking and inspirational.
Alongside WWF UK and Forum for the future the project is made up of many leading organisations: the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Firmenich, The Hershey Company, Quorn, Target, Volac and Waitrose.
Watch this space as we seek to move the protein debate forward to a space that is less confusing and good for us and the planet. In the meantime visit the protein topic hub to learn more about animal, plant and novel proteins. Don’t forget WWF’s own Livewell to learn more about sustainable diets. If you want further inspiration for yourself or your kids give peas (a great source of protein) a chance.