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Sugar Beet Leaves Create Vegan Protein Alternative

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Sugar Beet Leaves Create Vegan Protein Alternative

A scientist in the Netherlands is turning plant waste into a potential substitute for environmentally unsustainable proteins like meat, dairy and soy. The Dutch government commissioned Peter Geerdink, a food scientist at TNO, to identify a use for the 3 million tons of beet sugar leaves produced each year and left to rot after the beets themselves are harvested. The result of his work is a vegan gluten-free plant-based protein extracted from the pressed green juice of sugar beet leaves that, according to Geedink, is as versatile as a chicken egg.

A Dutch scientist has created a process for turning sugar beet leaves into protein.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The amount of land and water required to raise livestock puts a major strain on our air and water quality and ocean health by depleting resources and ramping up greenhouse gas emissions regionally and globally. In fact, eating less meat and dairy has been identified as a factor in curbing climate change.

Joining a number of meat and dairy alternatives on the market today, Geerdink's new sugar beet leaf protein could be processed in many ways as a substitute for animal proteins. "It can be used as a substitute for soy in veggie burgers, for example. But I’ve also made delicious cookies with it," he said. "There’s not much flavor to the protein itself, but the protein adds a texture to veggie burgers that is lacking with soy, and which makes for a much beefier bite."

So will you be seeing sugar beet protein on store shelves in the U.S. any time soon? Geerdink thinks it's unlikely, saying it will be a few years before it even appears in supermarkets in the Netherlands.

What about sugar beets themselves? Here in the U.S. sugar beets are among the top genetically modified crops with 90 percent of sugar beet crops being GMO. While the Dutch sugar beet leaf protein scientist doubts sugar beets are fit for human consumption, they are processed into sugar sold in the U.S.

The highly controversial crop was introduced in 2005 with Monsanto's Roundup-Ready sugar beet seeds which were then banned in 2010 by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White pending a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study on the potential consequences of the plants. The ban was lifted after Monsanto successful argued before the Supreme Court for the USDA to partially deregulate GMO sugar beets while the study is completed. In 2012, the USDA approved genetically modified sugar beets for agricultural use, and they account for more than half of all sugar production in the U.S. today.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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