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Want to mitigate climate change? Just add pulses!

If Canada wants to address climate change while advancing modern agriculture, pulses are a natural fit.

Denis Tremorin Director of Sustainability

Nov 18, 2021

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(Originally published on RealAgriculture.com)

The COP26 Summit has brought together countries from around the world to discuss new targets to mitigate climate change and the methods required to meet them. There is no shortage of opinions, and more often than not, the discourse moves quickly into supporting one sector at the expense of another. The end result of these highly spirited debates has real consequences on businesses, and agriculture is no exception. Take a look at agricultural policies around the world and you can see very different visions for how the world feeds it people—and more often than not, it feels like Canada’s vision for the future of ag is under attack. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

If Canada wants to address climate change while advancing modern agriculture, pulses are a natural fit. We’re not talking about sitting down to a bowl of lentils for breakfast in the morning (no judgment here, if that is your thing), but we are talking about including pulses in the formulation of food products—both plant and animal based. Science backs this up, incorporating Canadian pulses into food products can reduce the carbon emissions, water use and land use of food.

Take cereal-based foods. At Pulse Canada, we have done some work to explore how pulses can improve not only the nutritional profile of foods like pasta or breakfast cereal through an increase in protein and fibre, but also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of these foods. Pasta reformulated to include lentil flour produced a noodle with 31% less carbon emissions than traditional. This presents an opportunity for companies to show their commitment to the environment by re-thinking how they make their products. This new demand for sustainability claims also presents Canadian farmers with the opportunity to sell their pulses at a premium. A win-win.

Let’s flip to animal-based products. No, the pulse industry is not coming after your steak. But that is a big mistake sectors can make (pulse included). We see one side promoting their product and can take it as an attack against our own. But the future of food is not a matter of one or the other. Consumers today want choices, and they buy from the markets who are offering it. And when we look at it from a Canadian perspective, it makes sense as global producers of both plant and animal protein, that we put our heads together to meet this growing demand and capture an unfair share of the revenue that comes from it.

That is why Pulse Canada led a study to examine the environmental and economic impacts of blending lentils with beef. As it turned out, a beef burger reformulated with 1/3 lentils shows a significantly improved carbon footprint with 33% fewer greenhouse gas emissions. This is on top of having 12% fewer calories and costing 27% less. It is easy to see the potential. A lentil/beef burger isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. But as long as consumers and companies want to lower the carbon footprint of their food, we want to make Canadian pulses a solutions provider and give growers the opportunity to reap the reward.

Lowering the carbon footprint of food can be accomplished beyond blends. Animal feed matters too—and pulses can help. In fact, a study commissioned by Pulse Canada has shown that including peas into swine feed rations reduced the environmental footprint of the feed by 28% and the carcass by 18% (check the hard science here). Low-carbon bacon anyone? It’s possible, and Canadian farmers can be the benefactors.

Solutions exist to help lower our carbon footprint without attacking modern agriculture. In fact, to build on our success, we need market-driven policies that foster growth of our modern agricultural sector. That is why we will continue to work alongside farmers and ranchers, businesses, governments and consumers to grow Canadian agriculture while lessening our impact on the environment.

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Pulse Canada is the national association of growers, traders and processors of Canadian pulses, also known as lentils, dry peas, beans and chickpeas. Pulses are an essential part of a healthy and sustainable diet. Pulses and pulse ingredients can help food manufacturers improve the nutritional and functional quality of food products.