The Future Of Meat Alternatives

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New markets go meatless

Last month, I had my first Beyond Taco from Del Taco as well as my first Beyond Burger from Carl’s Jr. Primarily a vegetarian since my teens, the “meat” was so realistic that I felt like I was cheating on my veggie burgers with these new meat alternatives.

Recently, we’ve seen a new wave of meat-alternatives enter the market. This shift towards using technology to produce alternatives to industries that are polluting the air, water, and environment while creating pain and suffering for billions of land animals and heartache for people who want to protect them is a welcoming sign of change.

Today’s freezer section now includes all sorts of meat substitutes, many of which are using new processes to produce ingredients not before used in meat substitutes.

Impossible Burgers use their signature ingredient, heme, which is naturally found in meat but is now obtained from the DNA of soybeans and is fermented in yeast. Heme is the molecule that carries oxygen in our blood and is what gives meat the bloody taste we crave, according to the company.

Beyond Meat offers burgers, sausages and crumbles with non-GMO ingredients including pea proteins, refined coconut oil, binders and beet juice (for color).

Memphis Meats grows real meat in labs from actual animal cells to produce lab-grown mean that causes no harm to actual animals.

Although some products are still highly processed, as shown by the Quorn controversy, all of these companies show that demand for real meat is changing.

In the bell curve model, radical early-adopters are needed to embrace any new idea. Eventually, their thinking flows into the more moderate markets and eventually, it reaches the mainstream. We are starting to see the same thing happen with meat alternatives.

The global vegan meat market is expected to surpass 6.5 billion by 2026 with a compound annual growth rate of 7.6 percent between 2018 and 2025. (source)

This is a slight but powerful sector in the global meat market which has fueled an expected market for meat, poultry, and meat substitutes of close to $100 billion by 2021. (source)

How did we get here

The Industrial Revolution and the trend towards mass production caused many great advancements in our society such as the automobile. It also affected how we raise the animals we rely on.

Meat and eggs were not a staple of our diet until the 21st century. We had mostly plant and grain-based diets for most of human history. When we did eat animals or use their eggs or milk, they were raised alongside us in small farm lots in the city.

The changes to our production systems began when the need for more factory jobs in the city pushed farm lots into surrounding areas. We began to experience the loss of connection to our food that we still have today.

New modes of shipping and transportation allowed animals to be raised, slaughtered and transported over longer distances. Advancements in vitamins, minerals, vaccines and antibiotic research allowed animals to be raised indoors and in closer confinement, without access to sunlight and with fewer chances of catching diseases.

Genetic selection also favored larger, faster-growing animals and the different type of species we raised gradually reduced. Overtime, we found ways to control every aspect of the animal’s life including the amount of light, ventilation, food, sleep and contact it has with other animals or humans — all in order to yield the most return for us.

In post-World War II years, the motto was go-big. Governments pushed meat, milk, and eggs as staple foods and the industries continued to grow with subsidized support.

Overtime, companies monopolized and the entire process of hatching, feeding, raising and killing became “vertically integrated” so that large corporations could own the entire process, in the meantime swallowing up smaller farmers which generally didn’t employ such aggressive measures. (source)

Meat consumption is related to rises in income, urbanization and other signs of prosperity which is why it took off following the post-war boom.

Today, the U.S.’s demand for meat is steading off and the markets for meat-alternatives are opening while developing nations in Asia, Africa and India are the fastest-growing consumers of meat, dairy, and eggs.

Every change has consequences

The goal of animal agriculture has always been to produce a staple product whether it be eggs, dairy or meat at a low cost. In terms of a business model, animal agriculture has been a great success.

However, for all of these advances, they have not gone without their consequences.

Animal agriculture requires huge amounts of animal feed, which are staple food crops that could be used to feed people instead of animals. In the United States, 70 percent of the corn harvest is fed to livestock. And worldwide, nearly 80 percent of all soybeans are used for animal feed. (source)

In the United States, livestock produces more than 600 million tons of waste annually on factory farms. This waste can end up in our water supplies when natural disasters strike. (source)

According to a recent study, 25–75 percent of the antimicrobials given to livestock may pass through undigested, resulting in traces of these drugs as well as antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the animals’ waste. Exposure to these drugs over time can make them less effective when they are really needed. (source)

Raising animals in such close confinement also creates breeding grounds for foodborne and zoonotic illnesses that can easily spread to people around the world.

The atmosphere also takes a beating from all of the energy emitted as methane from the millions of animals as well as the water, electricity, and oil required to operate the large-scale animal confinement operations. Producing one calorie of beef takes 33 percent more fossil fuel energy than producing a calorie of potatoes. (source)

The large-scale operations in these facilities also make the slaughtering process nightmarish. Meatpacking is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. These workers are typically low-paid, immigrant workers who experience high rates of injury as well as the potential for PTSD from their job of killing and disassembling animals quickly in order to keep up with the pace.

Slaughter methods can yield the worst abuses as Peta reports, “Workers are treated badly by a farmed animal industry that is consolidating the cutting labor costs and benefits to the lowest level possible, so we’ve found that workers often take their frustration out on animals,” says PETA’s director of vegan campaigns, Bruce Friedrich. Often times, the animals are not fully killed before they are disassembled and prepared for sale because of the fast pace of the slaughtering systems. (source)

This is a lot different than how chickens or cows were raised for meat 100 years ago.

The future of meat alternatives

With organizations and industries that have become this large, we may think they’re immovable to change — but this isn’t always the case. Some large companies are actually leading change in making improvements in animal agriculture and brining in new meat alternatives for meat-eaters and vegetarians/vegans alike.

  • McDonald’s – McDonald’s was an early mover for acting for animal welfare by supporting the Five Freedoms, phasing out gestation crates for female pigs and aiming to source only from cage-free egg producers by 2025.

  • Costco – Supports the Five Freedoms and has committed to going cage-free and phasing out gestation crates by 2022. As of September 2018, Costco increased its percentage of U.S. cage-free shell eggs was 89% and 80% of it’s pork producers had phased out using gestation crates.

  • Walmart – Supports the Five Freedoms with a goal to transition to a 100% cage-free egg supply chain by 2025.

  • Whole Foods – Developed a 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards to encourage producers to make accommodations for animals to live their best lives.

  • Chipotle – Their Food with Integrity Promise uses only pork from producers that don’t use gestation crates.

Today, the future of meat not only includes new measures designed by large companies to protect animals and stay connected with their customers but also new innovators remaking our visions of meat. Beyond, Impossible and Memphis Meats are some of the names you will now see in your freezer section, but others are coming.

The goal(s) of these new companies is not to just to appeal to non-meat eaters but to provide more options to the marketplace, including meat-eaters. With this more balanced approach, as opposed to trying to convert meat-eaters to vegetarians or vegans through shaming or guilting, appealing to people’s taste buds may allow them to reach their goal of reducing the 77 billion land animals raised for food each year around the world.

The Impossible burger was well received in Burger King in Saint Louis and is already in Red Robin and White Castle with the goal of appealing to meat-eaters.

In a recent article written by Bill Gates, he refers to the history of a plow and how it increased the yield of food production for human civilization. Through our increased food supply, we’ve become healthier and able to live longer as a species. Nowadays, our issue is not growing or raising enough food but raising higher quality food and meeting the demands of our increasingly conscious consumers. (source)

Humans and livestock animals now make up 96% of all land mammals, leaving just 4% for wild animals. (source) The environmental, climate and disease effects associated with raising 77 billion land animals for food each year is turning more of us away and demanding higher quality products and more knowledge into how our food is raised and where it comes from. We’re concerned for the world our future generations will inherit. And we’re seeing the impact of our extravagant living.

It’s still not enough to switch the global rise in meat demand from countries including China. But offering new products to the market will let the consumer (the people) make the decision which in the end can be the most powerful factor of all.

By appealing to tastes and catapulting off on a general trend towards more humanity and concern in our choices for food, clothing and other items, I feel the future of meat has only just begun.

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