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Growing plant-based meat industry upsets US cattle rachers

Marco Verch | Flickr

With the emergence of companies like Beyond Meat that specialize in plant-based products, American farmers are beginning to feel the pressure of competition. Store shelves are becoming harder to occupy in the era of health and wellness. 

Beyond Meat started making headlines when its plant-based chicken strips and burgers started flying off Whole Foods shelves in 2012.

 In addition to its soy and pea-based Beyond Chicken Strips, the analog meat purveyor now includes a collection of single-serve vegan meals as part of its product mix, such as vegan ground beef substitute.

Beyond Meat products can now be found at retail superstores like Target and Walmart. In October 2018, the multinational animal protein company Tyson Foods bought a 5% stake in the company for an undisclosed sum according to a Triple Pundit article.

The world of Wall Street quickly took notice. As the old adage goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

One area that has been drastically altered is the milk industry. 

Almond, oat, coconut and other milk alternatives have contributed to the steady erosion in sales of cow’s milk over the years. U.S. sales of plant-based meats rose 8% by volume in 2019 through late August alone, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

Throughout history, anytime an industry is being disrupted, those who once led the pack will make an outcry. 

The cattle ranchers and farm bureaus of America are not looking to give up their hold on the word meat without a fight. 

Over the past year, beef and farming industry groups have persuaded legislators in more than a dozen states to introduce laws that would make it illegal to use the word meat to describe burgers and sausages that are created from plant-based ingredients or grown in labs. 

In February of this year, new meat-labeling bills were introduced in Arizona and Arkansas. The rationale is that if consumers see labels like milk alternative or other sophisticated names, it would dissuade them from buying those products, and make them more likely to purchase animal products. 

More bad press has come the week before Thanksgiving. A vegan customer named Phillip Williams sued Burger King for cooking its plant-based patties, the Impossible Whoppers, on the same grills used for cooking its meat products. In a proposed class action suit filed in a Miami federal court, Williams said the way the Impossible Whopper is grilled leaves it “coated in meat by-products.” He said that the burger’s tagline, “100% Whopper, 0% Beef,” was misleading. 

The push for state labeling laws is a reflection of how quickly start-ups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which produce burgers from plant-based ingredients, have grown to challenge the traditional meat industry. 

Sales of plant-based meat substitutes increased 22% to $1.5 billion last year, according to Euromonitor International, a market research firm.

Plant-based meat providers still face challenges that could entice customers to stick with traditional meat or to avoid both types altogether. 

Highly processed food is unhealthy regardless of whether or not it is plant-based. Many commercially prepared veggie burgers have some cons, as well. 

They are highly processed and typically high in sodium, which could be a problem for people with high blood pressure. 

Many brands use refined oils, saturated fats, flavors, sugar, genetically modified ingredients and other less healthy additives. 

Many veggie burgers also contain potential allergens, like soy, wheat and nuts, as well as cheese or milk proteins if the burger is vegetarian but not vegan. 

There are sometimes ethical concerns too, such as the Impossible Burger’s choice of lab testing on animals. 

Even though the fake meat industry keeps growing despite the opposition of cattle ranchers,  choosing or not choosing the plant-based options will ultimately be the consumer’s choice.

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