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"Ick” factor: Media works to drive consumer acceptance of lab meat

Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly on plant-based and cell-cultured protein products. Will consumers bite? The media is helping eliminate the “ick factor” and change public perception.

In just one week, I’m slated to speak in Kentucky at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference (ONE19) on emerging alternative proteins, including plant-based and cell-cultured patties.

This is a hot industry topic right now — one that I’m excited to talk about. But it also comes with some pressure, as staying current on the most recent headlines is nearly impossible! The media has really rallied around these products, and many journalists seem to be pushing for consumer acceptance of burgers made out of beets or fetal calf cells.

So, in an effort to have the most up-to-date information possible for my speech, I’ve been reading the most recent headlines. Naturally, I thought these also might be of interest to BEEF readers.

As we face the direct competition of these meat alternatives, which make grand-sweeping claims of nutritional, ethical and environmental superiority, we must also balance the conversation with facts about real beef production.

What can a cow do that a plant-based or petri-dish patty cannot? Let me count the ways.

Without cattle, there would be no by-products like life-saving insulin for diabetics, makeup for your Instagram portraits, or leather goods used for boots, shoes, belts and sporting goods, just to name a few. Try to replicate these by-products with synthetic options and just imagine the carbon footprint there!

Without cattle, rangeland would become useless to humans. A whopping 70% of the world’s surface (800 million acres in the U.S.) is not fit for farming or development. However, these terrains grow cellulosic material (non-edible for people) that ruminant animals can convert into nutrient-dense meat and the aforementioned life-enriching by-products.

Without cattle, many crop by-products would go to waste. From potatoes to peanut vines to corn stalks and beat pulp, cattle can consume a wide variety of inedible by-products that would otherwise go into landfills.

Without cattle, we would lack a true, healthy and safe nutritious beef product. Lab meat does not equal real beef. Period.

The fats and the muscular structures must be grown in a petri dish, using tons of energy, consuming a soy-based medium and creating waste that must be extracted. These fibers must be mushed together to create a protein patty.

There is a lack of available proven science and research on these products and the human body. These products should have to go through the same rigorous testing and safety checks as beef products do, and perhaps more, given that this is a new technology and area of food science.

These reasons are just the tip of the iceberg for me, and in my 30-minute speech at ONE19, I have a ton of ground to cover! What I can’t fully address in my speech, I will elaborate here on the BEEF Daily blog.

So with that, here is the roundup of recent headlines on this topic to keep you current on these emerging alternative protein products. If you run across similar pieces, feel free to email me at amanda.radke@informa.com with the headline links. Thank you!

1. “Alternative meat industry headed toward a $40B market by 2030, analyst says” by Jade Scipioni for Fox Business

Here’s an excerpt: “If Beyond Meat, which debuted last week in one of the strongest initial public offerings since 2000, can keep the momentum going with its planted-based burgers, it foresees sales could climb to $2 billion by 2028, compared to its $207 million this year.”

2. “McDonald’s joins the meatless burger trend in one of its biggest markets” by Danielle Wiener-Bronner for CNN Business

According to the article, “McDonald's is inching closer to getting fully on board the meatless burger bandwagon with a new version in one of its biggest international markets. The burger chain is now selling a vegan burger, the Big Vegan TS, in Germany, one of its five leading international markets. Nestle is making the meatless patty for McDonald's, which first started selling the burger late last month.”

3. “From lab to table: Will cell-cultured meat win over Americans?” by Laura Reiley for the Washington Post

Reiley writes, “Traditional American animal agriculture, a $176 billion business in 2017, wants to preserve its fundamental business while, in some cases, it dabbles in the future. (Giants such as Cargill and Tyson have invested in alt-meat companies.)

“The plant-based meat companies, currently getting all the buzz, must convince the world they’re not just for vegans and vegetarians.

“And the futuristic lab-based meat companies, which perhaps hold the most promise to disrupt the food industry, have to unpack the science for consumers and nudge people past the ick factor.”

4. “The problem with lab-grown meat” by Christy Spackman for Slate

Spackman writes, “Advocates for lab-grown meat say that beyond helping fight climate change, it will also improve animal welfare and shake up our food production system. But there is a problem with cellular agriculture—another name for lab-grown meat—that the cheerleaders don’t seem to be talking about.

“In key ways, lab-grown meat is built on the same foundational logics of our current industrial food system. As a result, it’s firmly on the road to replicating many of the challenges that it claims it will address, and in the process risks making a food future that is worse, rather than better, for eaters.”

5. “Grill without the kill: Beyond Meat and the alt-burger era are here” by the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board

According to the editorial, “Beyond Meat says a study showed that 93% of Kroger customers who bought its burgers last spring also bought animal meat during the same period. The barbecue is still on.

“Maybe the plant-patty-curious still eat red meat, but less of it, and they’re planning steak for dinner. Maybe they passed a cow trailer on the highway and saw too many big brown eyes and soft noses pressed up against up metal slats.”

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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