The fake meat—or, as I prefer, “alternative protein”—fad has been garnering a lot of publicity this year. It’s been hard to ignore all the press.
Now, I am a big fan of giving consumers options on how they spend their money. However, the tactics used by some of these companies rely on misinformation and lies to guilt consumers into buying their products. It’s clear the alternative protein companies seek to change animal agriculture and meat consumption as we know it.
For example, the Impossible Foods company’s mission statement states that “Animal Agriculture occupies almost half the land on earth, consumes a quarter of our freshwater and destroys our ecosystems.”
Similarly, looking at the Beyond Meat company’s mission statement it states, “By shifting from animal, to plant-based meat, we are creating one savory solution that solves four growing issues attributed to livestock production: human health, climate change, constraints on natural resources, and animal welfare.”
I am not sure about you, but I have some serious beef (excuse the pun) with these statements. Using either biased or extremely one-sided research, these companies paint pictures of animal agriculture as a cruel, heartless industry that rapes the landscape and is ruining our planet.
But who is believing and advocating this nonsense? Unfortunately, there is a host of celebrities, politicians, and other influencers who are advocating for these alternative protein companies.
In Colorado in mid-August, Gov. Jared Polis (D) made headlines when meeting with staff at the Colorado Department of Agriculture. At this meeting, the governor encouraged staff to welcome the alternative protein movement in Colorado, look for opportunities for this fad to flourish, and offered to buy the staff the Impossible Burger for lunch.
Though not a direct shot at beef production, which is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the Colorado economy, groups such as the Colorado Catttlemen’s Association, Colorado Livestock Association, and others did not let these comments go lightly.
On Sept. 4, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Colorado Livestock Association invited the governor, many state officials, and media to the historic National Western Complex to introduce their “Better with Beef” promotional campaign. This event highlighted the importance of beef and agriculture in Colorado and demand for meat not only in the state, but also worldwide.
The “Better with Beef” campaign will utilize technology via their website, social media, and a blog to counter false claims made against beef. They will highlight the environmental and wildlife benefits of beef production and the health benefits of beef products by using peer reviewed, fact-based research.
The Sept. 4 event received a lot of media coverage in Colorado and Polis accepted the invitation to attend and partake in a gourmet Colorado beef hamburger. Polis’ comments at this event were very kind towards animal agriculture and he touted many of the economic benefits of animal agriculture in Colorado. However, his comments still indicated that he sees alternative protein as part of the future.
So, what do we do as an industry to counter actions and endorsements such as these? In order to respond successfully to the new, more activist approach to bashing agriculture, we cannot continue on the same path of marketing as we have for the last 50 years.
To be honest, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a concerted effort by all.
Beef has a great story to tell. In my opinion it is the ultimate protein option. Not only are there health benefits, I simply cannot see how the taste can be duplicated. Looking at the ingredient labels on the alternative protein products would remind one more of a dog food label, and in an era where highly processed food receives a lot of negative attention for health, this is one of the highest processed options for consumers to choose from. Even John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, where Beyond Meat got its start, told CNBC that he could not endorse these “super-highly processed foods.”
From my observations, the “Better with Beef” campaign can be seen as following more of the activist blueprint for getting out information by being more vocal, more visible to consumers, and more proactive in its methods to spread the good news about beef and animal agriculture. Following the event, a convoy of cattle trucks and stock trailers drove around the Denver metro area with banners highlighting our product.
I commend those involved in trying a new approach to counteract the alternative protein movement and working at being proactive. — DEVIN MURNIN