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The negative impacts of industrial livestock production and high levels of meat consumption are stark, especially in light of climate change and global population growth. Shifting diets toward more sustainable protein alternatives provides an opportunity to eliminate many of the issues associated with meat. This report analyzes the environmental, social and ethical impacts of a range of alternative proteins, including plant-based meat alternatives, cultured meat, insects and pulses. All of the protein alternatives considered resolve some or most of the problems associated with conventional meat, however, pulses are found to provide the greatest environmental, social and ethical benefits. Despite the potential benefits of the protein alternatives, they will need to overcome the established political, societal and economic support for the meat industry. In order to shift diets in the United States away from meat and towards alternative proteins, government policies that incentivize, discourage or restrict consumer protein choices will be necessary. The potential for interventionist policies including bans, taxes and subsidies in creating dietary change is discussed in this report. The initial public resistance to such assertive policies can be overcome and these policies are likely to significantly impact consumer behavior and incentivize more sustainable protein choices. While all three intervention strategies have potential, a tax on meat appears best positioned based upon models of its efficacy and the extensive precedent for similar “sin tax” policies on a range of goods.
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