Opinion: Plant-Based Meat Producers Need To Stop Misleading Consumers About Beef

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By Kevin Killough, Powell Tribune

It’s unlikely that many Wyomingites are going to embrace the Impossible Burger anytime soon. These faux-meat products compete with the real thing, and we don’t call it the Cowboy State for nothing. With ranchers eking out a living on thin margins, the growth of the faux-meat industry is just another problem for them to contend with.  

Using a genetic engineering process, Impossible Foods, the maker of the plant-based Impossible Burger, created a verisimilitude of the same protein found in red blood. It allows their simulated meat to bleed and sizzle like real ground beef. Whether it tastes the same as real meat depends on who you ask, but there are those who swear it does.  

This is the reality of the free and open market. You can be the king of the hill one day and then someone comes along with a new way of doing things. In the end, consumers end up with more choices and more opportunities to find that thing that’s just right for their individual needs. Though it can be disruptive to established producers, competition improves things for everyone.  

With better branding efforts, Wyoming cattle ranchers are trying to market our state’s beef to Americans and consumers across the world. Not only do Americans love a good steak, consumers in Taiwan, for example, associate Wyoming beef with a mystique of the American West. Reaching these consumers’ taste buds with bonafide, verifiable Wyoming beef could open up a lot of doors for the future of ranching in the state.  

This marketing effort adheres to a key value in the cowboy code — honesty. We’re not pulling any punches when we say our beef is the best. Perhaps the statement is seasoned with a bit of pride, but there are no embellishments or exaggerations. If you don’t believe us, just try a bite. You’ll see.  

Unfortunately, those promoting the Impossible Burger don’t market by the same cowboy code. Jessie Becker, Impossible Foods’ senior vice president of marketing, gave an interview recently on SiriusXM Business Radio’s Marketing Matters about the company’s ultimate goal, which they say is to eliminate animal agriculture by 2035.  

Becker argued that the way people eat is contributing heavily to climate change.  

“The biggest thing that people can do is not change your car to electric … or add solar power to your roof, but actually to stop eating animal meat,” Becker said.  

Contrary to claims of faux-meat producers, ranching is not a significant contributor to climate change. Transportation, heating, lighting and manufacturing produce about 80% of all greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. By comparison, agriculture contributes 9% of the total GHG emissions, and animal agriculture is only 2.6% of the total. If everyone in the United States became full-on vegans today, it would be a minor blip in the effort to address climate change.  

Becker isn’t the first to exaggerate the impact that cutting meat would have on climate change. Anti-meat groups promote the idea humans could cut their carbon footprint in half by going vegetarian. This is misleading in that it would apply only to that portion of the carbon footprint that is food related. More optimistic figures are often based on a total vegan diet and not just vegetarian. According to a 2015 Swedish study, going vegetarian would cut the average person’s GHG emissions by only 2%.  

In her interview, Becker also said that up to 45% of the planet’s land that isn’t covered in ice is devoted to raising cattle. That’s compared to the land devoted to humans, including cities, which is just 1%.  

This is a lot like comparing how much space at the grocery store is dedicated to shampoo and how much is dedicated to pet food. The fact the pet section generally takes up more space than hair care products doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with pets.  

Cattle graze primarily on marginal lands that aren’t suitable for growing crops. It’s too rocky, or it lacks irrigation or moisture. Grazing isn’t eating up land that would be used for other purposes.

It’s also worth noting that beef — which is packed with zinc, iron, protein, and B vitamins — is more nutritionally dense per calorie than any other food.  

There’s nothing wrong with plant-based meat products trying to find a market and offering consumers new choices. It would be nice if the companies making these foods would stop trying to sell them with misinformation about their competitors. Wyoming beef producers can run honest campaigns that rely solely on the quality of their products. Why can’t their competitors do the same?

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