About the project

What are the socio-technical conditions, policy narratives, and feedback dynamics that can destabilize the current system of meat production and consumption?

Today’s food production and consumption patterns are associated with serious threats to

the environment and human health (Crippa et al., 2021; Poore & Nemecek, 2018; Rosenzweig et al., 2020). The food system is responsible for a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and is also the largest emitter of methane – a powerful short-lived greenhouse gas mainly due to red meat products (Fesenfeld et al., 2018; Poore & Nemecek, 2018; Springmann et al., 2018; Willett et al., 2019). Without transforming the food system, the goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 2°C would not be achievable, even if all other sectors were to reduce emissions completely (Clark et al., 2020). Plant-based diets could substantially reduce global land use and deforestation and save 547 gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2050 (Hayek et al., 2021). Moreover, the production and trade of meat is also linked to human health, in particular the outbreak and spread of pandemics like Covid-19 (Roe & Lee, 2021). Hence, it is crucial to investigate under what economic, political, and technological conditions and through which mechanisms the global meat system can be transformed to align with the Sustainable Development Goals. However, until now the meat system has been largely missing in the sustainability transition literature and also the burgeoning literature on COVID-19 impacts on sustainable development (Dupont et al., 2020; Oldekop et al., 2020; van der Ven & Sun, 2021).

As a result, we still know little about opportunities and challenges to reducing meat consumption and production in major economies, particularly in the post-Covid context. To bridge this gap, we currently conduct a research project on “The political economy of meat system transformation” that explores the following overarching research question: What are the socio-technical conditions, policy narratives, and feedback dynamics that can destabilize the current system of meat production and consumption?

To answer this question, our project takes an inter- and trans-disciplinary approach and studies meat system transformation in the world’s three largest meat producer and consumer countries (regions): China, the EU, and the US. We not only integrate different academic disciplines (e.g. political science, economics, psychology, earth sciences, and computational social sciences) but also directly engage with key stakeholders in the food system (e.g., FAO, WWF, and FOLU coalition).

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