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Protein replacement poses challenge for global agricultural systems

Options for totally replacing animal protein in human diets are limited
“Switching to a plant-based diet may not be as simple as previously thought. All of these options would require major changes in the structure of global agricultural production and address the barriers associated with current agri-food systems."

Capacities for completely replacing animal protein in the human diet are limited and would require “major changes” in the structure of global agricultural food systems, according to new research.

A study carried out by Scottish scientists demonstrates the importance of a sustainable supply of lysine globally. Lysine is one of the amino acids that are essential for human nutrition.

Researchers from the James Hutton Institute, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the University of Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute have found that the current production of plant-based lysine that can be considered a replacement of animal-based lysine comes largely from soybeans, which are grown and imported from a small number of countries.

For example, the amount of lysine currently obtained from all other leguminous protein crops – such as beans and peas – is less than a fifth of the amount of soya-based lysine, and far below the global human demand.

The study finds that broadening the supply of plant-based lysine would mean increasing soya production outside its current main production areas in Brazil, the USA and Argentina.

Yet there are alternatives, for example: increasing the production of legumes other than soya, such as beans and peas, or other lysine-rich crops; obtaining plant-based lysine from sources not currently used for human consumption (such as oilseed); or, manufacturing lysine from non-standard plant-based sources, such as via fermentation.

The study’s lead author, Dr Ilkka Leinonen from SRUC, said: “Switching to a plant-based diet may not be as simple as previously thought. All of these options would require major changes in the structure of global agricultural production and address the barriers associated with current agri-food systems.

“Some of these options may also have consequences on agricultural land use, because alternative crops would need a much bigger land area to produce the same amount of lysine as soya.”

The study was funded by the Scottish Government SEFARI Gateway project, Pathways toward a sustainable protein economy. Author institutions are supported by the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme. 

The paper Lysine Supply Is a Critical Factor in Achieving Sustainable Global Protein Economy, by Ilkka Leinonen, Pietro P. M. Iannetta, Robert M. Rees, Wendy Russell, Christine Watson and Andrew P. Barnes, is published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.

Co-authors Pietro Iannetta and Robert Rees are also supported by the EU-H2020 funded project TRUE: www.true-project.eu.

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Printed from /news/protein-replacement-poses-challenge-global-agricultural-systems on 19/09/19 08:41:13 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.