Some news just won’t go away. That’s true not only for issues such as political campaigns and various celebrities’ affairs, but also — of all things, meat that isn’t meat.
On a local level — a very local level as in buying hamburgers in restaurants and grocery stores— consumers appear to have gotten their teeth into this one and aren’t letting go. And as consumers go, so, too, do investors and manufacturers. And the news is all over it.
Not just the news, but also advertising. Both the Wall Street Journal and New York Post even ran full page ads (hey, these are very spendy ads) against these “second generation” plant-based meats.
A Google search reveals that a full-page color ad, purchased on a non-contract basis, costs $248,060.32, according to The Journal’s Web site.
Go here (https://www.consumerfreedom.com/app/uploads/2019/08/CCF_WSJ_Ad_FakeMeatRealChemicals_final_NoMarks-2.pdf) to see the Wall Street Journal ad. Go here (https://www.consumerfreedom.com/app/uploads/2019/08/CCF_NYP_Ad_FakeMeatRealChemicalsSausage_final_NoMarks-2.pdf) to see the New York Post ad.
The ads were placed by Center for Consumer Freedom, a public relations group that has done work for food companies, restaurants, and other special interests, including the meat industry.
FAKE MEAT ALL CHEMICALS said the Wall Street Journal’s ad headline in large bold type. Then underneath this no-holds-barred proclamation, is a plate featuring two fried eggs as eyes and a piece of bacon in a smiley shape for the mouth.
Next comes some information about the ingredients.: “Real Bacon” pork, water, salt, sugar and seasoning.
Then comes a picture of the same plate but this time the bacon is shaped like a frown.
Fake Bacon: Then follows a list of chemicals with long names, plus the words “34 other ingredients.”
“So-called plant-based meats don’t grow on a vine,” continues the ad. Then in boldface, They “grow” in factories.”
Readers are encouraged to see what they’re really eating by going to CleanFoodFacts.com.
The New York Post’s ad takes the same tack and uses the same pictures, although instead of bacon for the mouth, it uses sausage.
The center’s managing director Will Coggin said in a press release about the ads that despite what the name leads people to believe, “‘plant-based’ meats are made in industrial facilities, not gardens.”
“Fake meat companies are trying to promote a ‘health halo’ over their products,” he said, “but consumers should know that imitation meat is highly processed and in some cases has more calories and sodium than the real thing.”
Requests to the center for food-safety concerns about plant-based meats and why the ads feature bacon and sausage, generally considered to be processed meats, got no response.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is concerned enough about this that during its 2018 conference, it listed “fake meats” as its top priority. The group intends to work “to ensure that a regulatory framework is properly implemented – one that it says will protect the health and wellbeing of consumers, prevent false and deceptive marketing, and ensure a level playing field for real beef products.”
Third on its list of priorities is the nation’s official Dietary Guidelines, which the federal government updates every five years. The group wants to “promote accurate information about the nutritional advantages of beef as part of a balanced diet.” It also intends to work to prevent false and deceptive marketing and ensure a level playing field for real beef products.
“Poison Packed,” warns the Organic Consumers Association in a recent action alert that
warns that the Impossible Burger, which it refers to as the GMO Impossible Burger, is so packed with poisons, that if eating it makes you sick, you’ll never be able to figure out which ingredient to blame.
According to Mercola.com, “any or all of the following ingredients in the Impossible Burger could potentially be genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and/or contaminated with glyphosate (an ingredient in RoundUp):”… Soy Protein Concentrate … Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors … Potato Protein, Methylcellulose (possibly from cotton), Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin … Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E) … Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.”
Even so, Burger King is enjoying success in selling the Impossible Whopper in restaurants across the country, sometimes even selling out of them.
Besides which, the plant-based food industry (think, meatless meats) is experiencing incredible growth, with sales up by 20 percent so far in 2019.
There’s more. Subway has announced meatless meatballs, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have jumped on the meatless meat bandwagon, and Dunkin’ has introduced its Beyond Sausage breakfast sandwich.
In addition, Beyond Meat is being sold in grocery stores across the nation, as well as in some upscale restaurants and in national chains, including Tim Horton’s and Del Taco.
On the investment side of the fence, some heavy hitters, among them, Conagra Brands, Tyson Foods and Nestle are also getting into the game, or about to get into the game.
What in the world is going on?
Veggie burgers have been around for a long time, but in many stores, they were often relegated to an obscure freezer — and just a small part of it. Yes, vegetarians and vegans bought them, but not in volumes large enough to make a difference overall. Add some lettuce and tomato and some extras such as ketchup and relish, and they taste ok — but not like a “real” burger.
Those “first-generation” burgers are patties that don’t contain meat, and they’re geared to vegans and vegetarians. They can be made from ingredients like beans, especially soybeans and tofu, nuts, grains, seeds or fungi such as mushrooms or mycoprotein.
For the most part, meat-eaters weren’t interested in them, saying that they preferred hamburgers made from beef that tasted like beef, in other words, “real meat.”
But times have changed and there are new customers out there in the marketplace. Many younger people, for example, are looking for foods they consider healthy and made using “sustainable” practices. And while many say they do eat beef, they also say they’d like to cut down on how much beef they eat.
It’s part of the “virtuous cycle” that many embrace. They want to live their values.
Technology, meanwhile, has also been developed that can make the plant-based patties taste more like beef.
This is important on a marketing level because vegans and vegetarians make up only about 3 percent of the U.S. population whereas “meat eaters” account for just about all of the rest. That’s where terms such as “market share” come into the picture.
“The only consumer we care about is the hardcore meat lover,” Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, told a reporter.
Taste, of course, is paramount here, which is what the meatless burgers are all about. They’ve been developed in ways to give consumers the taste and consistency of burgers. Perhaps not exactly, but close enough for many people.
The Impossible Burger is made with a plant-derived “heme” (blood) that gives the consumer the feeling that the burger contains blood — just like beef. Bite into it, and you’ll see red. Same with Beyond Meat burger. But its red comes from beet juice.
“I was with friends, and I was eating a meatless burger,” said Eric Leuschner of Silicon Valley. “I was halfway through it before I remembered that it wasn’t a real burger. That’s how good it was.”
He said he actually likes beef but wants to cut down on how much of it he eats. He said he also has concerns about how large-scale cattle operations affect the environment as well as concerns about the humane treatment of animals.
Those thoughts pretty much mirror what other people who aren’t vegetarians and vegans say. Cutting down on how much beef they eat is a plus.
On the other hand, Jeremy Kindlund, manager of the Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market, a vegetarian, said he was happy to be able to eat an Impossible Burger while at the T-Mobile Stadium in Seattle watching a game.
“I think it’s a great thing that people are eating more plant-based foods,” he said. “It’s good for the environment and also a lot better than having mass-produced meat.”
Interestingly enough, some vegetarians who tried the meatless burgers told reporters that they were “disgusted” by them because they tasted so much like meat.
What is this “blood thing” all about?
To give consumers that “taste and color” of blood, Impossible Burgers use a protein called heme, a compound that’s also found in red meat and even in human blood. But this heme comes from the root nodules of soybeans. Once extracted from the nodules, the gene responsible for what is called leghemoglobin is implanted into yeast cells. The red liquid that comes from this is a protein produced by the genetically engineered yeast cells.
This is then mixed in with the rest of the Impossible Burgers recipe. When it’s cooked, the Impossible Burgers leghemoglobin releases its heme. Iron-rich heme is what characterizes the flavor of the meat.
Impossible Burger scientists say that using soy “blood” to make meatless burgers is a way “to bypass the cow.
Oxygen-transporting heme is found in every living animal, some plant cells and most bacteria/yeasts, but the Impossible Burger soy-root heme is not one that people have eaten before.
As for fears about cancer, the jury is still out on this. Some researchers say that it’s the heme in red meat that accounts for some types of cancer; other researchers dispute that.
The FDA classifies the heme used in Impossible Burgers as “generally recognized as safe.”
But Impossible Burger still has to get FDA approval to be able to use this heme as a color additive before it can sell the burgers in grocery stores. It has done that, but several groups are contesting this, which means there will likely be a delay in getting it into the stores.
Jaydee Hanson, policy director of the Center for Food Safety, told Food Safety News.com the center has filed a request for a hearing regarding the agency’s decision to approve leghemoglobin as a food colorant in the meatless burgers. He also wants the agency to require that labeling for this color additive be “soy leghemoglobin/P. pastoris yeast protein.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that the FDA should have done a more thorough job in assessing the safety of soy leghemoglobin (SL) in the Impossible Burger, before reaching its decision to approve it as a color additive for beef analog products that will likely be consumed by millions of people.
Because its competitor, Beyond Meat, uses beet juice for that characteristic red color associated with meat, it can already sell it both to restaurants and grocery stores.
As for the difference between these two main competitors in the plant-based meat arena, the two burgers are almost identical when it comes to nutrition. However, Beyond Meat uses no genetically modified plants, nor does it use heme.
In Burger King restaurants, the Impossible Whoppers are generally $1 more than the standard Whoppers.
What about food safety?
Jaydee Hanson, Center for Food Safety, said one of the Center’s concerns is that the FDA didn’t test the raw product, which is how the plant-based meats will be sold in grocery stores.
Along those same lines, he said that when it comes to food safety, consumers should treat them like meat. In the case of the plant-based burgers, they should be cooked to 165 degrees. And they definitely shouldn’t be eaten raw. And that includes no nibbling before they’re cooked.
Washing your hands before preparing the meatless burgers and making sure the burgers don’t get cross-contaminated by touching meat or other possibly contaminated foods is also important.
“Pathogens that you might pick up in a kitchen could grow and contaminate the burgers,” he said.
Will meat become extinct?
While the cattle industry is concerned about this new trend, it isn’t ready to pack it in and call it a day. Not by any means.
Danny DeFranco, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association (http://www.washingtoncattlemen.org), told Food Safety News.com said it is definitely something that cattlemen and women are watching.
“But people are still eating a lot of beef,” he said, pointing out that beef is already competing with chicken and pork in what he calls “the protein market.”
“This is something new,” he said. “But demand remains high. We still have as many cows in this country as before.”
Rick Nelson, former president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, who raises cattle near Olympia, Wash., said “it does raise concerns about our market.”
With a degree in animal science, he said that “beef is usually nutrient dense, while plant-based meats will usually be deficient in some nutrients.”
Miriam Garrote, co-owner of Baldham Farm, which raises cows, sheep and pigs in Western Washington, said that in the long run, beef won’t disappear but that these new plant-based meats will make things more challenging.
“I agree that people should be eating less meat, but more than that, I think they should pay attention to the source of the meat they buy,” she said.
She said that her family farm raises its livestock humanely, ethically and in small herds.
“The animals are happy and healthy,” she said. “They’re out on pasture in the summer and are fed hay in the winter. Being outside in the sun is beneficial to their health, and that transfers into the meat being healthy for you.”
Is she worried about losing business to this new trend?
“No” she said, with a smile. “I’m confident I’ll keep my customers.”
Saving the world?
Could this move toward plant-based meats be part of something bigger than gaining more marketshare and boosting revenue? Could it be, for example, about saving the world?
In a recent interview with the “Business Insider,” Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, said that the reason why he cares so much about replacing meat is that we’re in the “advanced stages of the biggest environmental catastrophe that our planet has ever faced” and that animal-based agriculture is a big part of that.
It comes down to the footprint of livestock on the land. For example, you need to feed an animal about 10 calories of plants to get one calorie of meat, which means plant-based foods add up to only about one-tenth the carbon costs of meat. In addition, an analysis of the Impossible Burger found that its carbon footprint is 89 percent smaller than a burger made from beef. It also uses 87 percent less water and 96 percent less land.
However, it’s not like it’s going to happen overnight. For that to happen, these plant-based meats are going to rev up in scale. Big time. And considering how many meat animals are being raised across the world — and how large the world is — that’s going to take a long time, especially since so many people in developing countries want to eat meat, and that’s a huge market waiting to happen.
What about meat grown in a lab?
Cattle raisers and consumers alike often bring up the subject of lab-grown meat when asked about their views on plant-based meats. But the two take a very different approach.
While plant-based meats have zero percent meat in them, lab-grown meats are 100 percent meat. The difference, of course, is that lab meat comes from a biopsy taken from a living animal. The cells from the biopsy are provided nutrients that allow them to multiply and grow into meat. Not actual steaks, at least not yet, but meat that can be made into hamburger.
Proponents call it clean meat; opponents call it fake meat. Cattle raisers don’t want it to be labeled as anything that contains the word “meat.”
So far, some companies have been able to do this, but concede that it will take awhile for it to be produced on a scale that would make it a serious competitor with meat raised out in the field.
Investors have taken note, and some big-time players, among them Cargill, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and entrepreneur billionaire Richard Branson of the funding group have invested millions in this technology.
While some people say they don’t like the idea of producing meat this way, describing it as unnatural, others say that it’s the large commercial feed lots that are unnatural.
On the food-safety side of the fence, proponents say that one of the big advantages of this way of producing meat is that it can reduce the risk of bacterial contamination, in large part because the animals don’t need to be slaughtered, which, in turn, lowers the risk of contamination from dangerous pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella, among others. Another food-safety plus, they say, is that the meat is being grown in sterile conditions.
Want to learn more?
Representatives of Tyson Foods, White Castle restaurants and MotivBase ethnography research firm will join The Center for Food Integrity (CFI), Fri. Sept. 13, from 1 to 2 p.m. CDT, for CFI Live “The Protein Play: Emerging Trends and Consumer Appetites for Protein Alternatives.”
The free webcam event will address the rapid evolution of protein alternatives, the profile of interested consumers, cultural forces at play and what’s next for both consumers and those in the protein complex.
To register, click on the CFI Live link here (www.foodintegrity.org).
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