In researching what external stakeholders are saying about eggs, Carlos encountered the vegan movement’s agenda. This is being played out through highly visible consumer facing campaigns as exemplified by the million-dollar vegan campaign which challenged Pope Francis to go vegan for Lent.
Such campaigns have a high level of buy-in from celebrities, activists and policy makers seeking to promote their argument for plant-based sustainability. However, such activities are creating deep divisions, making open and transparent discussions increasingly difficult.
During his presentation Carlos, demonstrated that this is nothing new. Over the decades there have been widely held beliefs and conflicting opinions about the role of eggs – many that have not always been accurate: Thankfully, there are now robust studies based on extensive trials which means that many doctors are increasingly advocating egg consumption. Yet there is a significant threat to the egg industry from a new wave of propaganda, driven by organisations that wish to promote plant-based food systems.
This was evidenced by a report published in the Lancet Medical Journal. The research was commissioned by the prominent EAT Foundation. Their study concluded that we should drastically reduce our consumption of animal protein, including eggs. However, Carlos indicated that EAT’s study was based on a theoretical diet; with the goal of creating a plant-based framework for food sustainability and to influence the WHO in its policy making.
This controversial report has resulted in a significant pushback – from producers, dieticians, doctors, policy makers and environmentalists. Carlos highlighted key responses from John Loannidis from Stanford University, leading nutritionist Dr Georgia Ede, Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Work Resources Institute – a highly respected NGO – all of whom have responded to EAT’s report by defending animal proteins and their invaluable role in our diet. These counter arguments call for us to consider the differences within the global population and the nutritional needs of developing countries. Here eggs and other animal proteins have an important role in reducing stunting and promoting healthy child development, but also helping countries to remain viable, sustainable and by providing a source of income.
Additionally, Carlos considered responses from leading environmentalists, who say that moving away from animal-based proteins will not have the huge environmental benefit that is being claimed. Agriculture is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions and animal emissions contribute to half of this. Therefore, it is important that we remember that all foods have impacts and eggs have a comparatively low impact.
When we consider plant-based alternatives, it is important to consider their impact also. The WWF highlighted that soya is the second biggest cause of deforestation. Similarly, nuts have higher impact than beef – so simply shifting diets is not going to solve the problems the planet faces.
Another paper published in Nature considered the varying environmental impact between omnivorous, ovo-lacto-vegetarian and vegan diets. Studying 100’s of people over many years, the researchers calculated the CO2, water and land impact of all three diets. The omnivorous diet had a much higher impact across all three areas. Whilst the ovo-lacto-vegetarian and vegan diets were comparable - with the ovo-lacto-vegetarian having the smallest water footprint.
Carlos drew attention to the findings of the respected food journalist, Sam Bloch, who tried the EAT-Lancet’s recommended diet for a week but found that it was almost impossible to follow. Its strict parameters meant he spent an additional two hours a day preparing food at an increased cost of 85%.
Although, this example reveals the difficulties with such a prescriptive plant-based diet, many consumers are trying to incorporate more fruit and vegetables into their diets. Health, environmental and animal welfare are the three key drivers of this trend. These are the issues that food producers and manufacturers are responding to and which has led to the plant-based market being worth $3.7 billion.
To illustrate the importance of sustainable food production, Carlos explained how Blackrock Investment’s CEO Larry Fink, wrote an open to letter to the CEO’s of all the businesses in Blackrock’s $6 trillion portfolio – requesting that they operate more sustainably in order to secure their long-term viability.
So when it comes to eggs what is happening? Are eggs replaceable?
In conclusion to his talk, Carlos showcased the many attributes that make eggs unique and the numerous opportunities that the egg industry has for continuous improvement.
Nutritionally, eggs are uniquely complete, the highest source of quality protein. They are the most efficient animal protein so have a very low environmental impact. In fact, eggs have a lower impact than rice and other fresh produce. They require little water, an egg’s footprint is 29 litres per gram of protein, whilst nuts have a footprint of 139 litres per gram.
Affordability is another key factor in eggs favour, making them accessible to many. Eggs are also a unique tool for social and sustainable development, as seen through the work of IEF. Eggs have unique characteristics that makes implementing egg production a practical, cost-effective solution in developing countries. Through the development of new technologies eggs’ shelf life is being enhanced and extended.
To maintain eggs enviable position, the industry must continue to consider the following factors; feed, genetics, animal welfare, gut health, manure use, extension of good practices and technologies, transparency, innovation and social development.
Looking ahead to what’s coming next in the 2020’s Carlos concluded his presentation by saying; “My conclusion from my research, is I think there is a big opportunity for eggs to be considered the most sustainable and unreplaceable source of protein. It depends on how the industry embraces this and takes it forward.”