3 strategies fake meat companies are using to take ranchers down

In a fair fight, beef can compete against any protein. But what happens when the playing field is no longer fair?

Amanda Radke

July 15, 2020

5 Min Read

Grilling season is 365 days a year around here, and man, do we love a good steak!

Just as soon as that ribeye hits the hot metal rack of our grill, magic begins to happen. Char marks soon appear, and the marbling begins to crackle and melt delicious flavor into this primal cut of meat. You can hear the sizzle and smell the smoke in the air.

It only takes a few minutes on each side before we take the tantalizing beef off the grill and impatiently wait for it to rest for maximum flavor and juiciness. It cuts like soft butter, that’s how tender it is. And speaking of butter, an extra pat on top along with salt and pepper isn’t a bad idea.

Beef — it’s always what’s for dinner around here, and frankly, it can’t be beat. I’ve always said that the protein raised on American farms and ranches can stand up against anything else found in the meat case—anytime, anywhere, any day of the week. We don’t mind competition in the beef industry; we welcome it. That even applies to those fake meat companies that are desperately trying to replicate what nature has already made perfect.

When it comes to taste, wholesomeness, environment and animal welfare, we’ve got the edge, and they know it. But their marketing tactics would tell a different story entirely. That’s a post for another day.

Related:Are fake meats gaining traction this summer?

When we look at whether or not beef can compete, when it’s a fair and even playing field, we know that we can. But when the battlefield becomes rigged with falsehoods, lies, smear campaigns and political warfare, it’s unchartered waters, and I’m not quite certain the beef industry has an effective game plan for what lies ahead.

You see, what plant-based alternatives and petri-dish proteins are working toward is a multi-faceted approach not to just disrupt the meat space and gain consumer acceptance for their products; it’s to take you out of business and make ranching irrelevant while they do it.

Don’t believe me? It wasn’t too long ago that the Impossible Foods CEO said it publicly. He envisions the animal agricultural industry being obsolete with 15 years.

How do they plan to achieve this goal? I can pinpoint at least three strategies.

The first is to duplicate what consumers already love — meat.

They want the same sizzle, taste, texture and appearance as the real deal. While fake burgers, sausages, chicken nuggets and fish sticks are already in the marketplace, a company called Redefine Meat has introduced the “Alt-Steak,” a new 3D printed steak.

According to RFD-TV, “Created using patent-pending 3D steak printing technology, the company says Alt-Steak delivers the experience of a beef steak while being plant-based.

Related:8 things about fake meats for beef producers to consider

“The company worked with butchers, chefs, and food technologists to digitally map more than 70 sensory parameters to give Alt-Steak the texture, juiciness, and mouthfeel of a traditional steak. Redefine Meat plans to launch consumer testing in high-end restaurants later this year.”

The second strategy is stealing our nomenclature while smearing our reputation.
They want to label their products with reputable, recognizable, consumer-accepted names like burgers, steaks, sausages and chicken nuggets. They want their products sold right next to ours, not in the vegan aisle. They want to appeal to the masses, not just the elite few.

And while they attempt to steal our nomenclature, on the grounds of the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech, they want to eliminate transparency, confuse consumers and disparage who we are in the agricultural community. Cue the recent Burger King/Cargill/World Wildlife Fund campaign #CowsMenu to see what I mean.

And the third strategy is the hardest of all to see. You can’t pinpoint it or map it directly back to these companies, but the writing on the wall is clear as day to me.

They want to take away consumer choice, and if they can’t get consumers to accept their fake products by standing on their own merit, they want to make sure their products are the ONLY CHOICE.

Has it gotten awfully expensive to be in the cattle business?

Do your inputs continue to rise while not a single global event or victory in the marketplace hardly ever bumps your commodity prices up?

Have regulatory burdens been forced upon you, but not applied to any other country in the world, increased your cost of production and required you to make expensive changes to your operation to be in compliance?

Through litigation, legislation and lobbying, activist groups have worked for decades to make it too expensive, too burdensome, too difficult and too stressful to remain in the cattle business. There are fewer and fewer of us involved in the land, and I bet you have a neighbor or peer who might be exiting the business in the near future. Is that OK? Is that what they want?

Are you frustrated as I am? Are you wondering what you can do to push back against these falsehoods? Here’s what we collectively need to do — we must engage in every arena.

  • We must be transparent, authentic and open to sharing our stories on social media.

  • We must hold elected officials accountable and call them out when they begin serving special interest groups instead of the will of the people — that means consumers and producers alike.

  • We must counter the misconceptions in the media.

  • We must pay attention to when activist groups, corporations, public entities, industry leaders or organizations show us who they are beholden to.

  • We must vote with our dollar and vote in elections.

  • And we must be bold in our leadership, in our enthusiasm for our product and in our dedication to continuing our work in the beef cattle business.

If you want a grilling competition, you got it, fake meats. But I believe there’s a lot more to it than that.

Who stands to gain if our society goes meatless? Who wins? Who loses? And what can we do about it? Ponder these questions and get back to me. Your curiosity could reveal a great deal.

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

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