All sizzle and no steak: Ranchers take aim at makers of alternative meats

The cattle industry has a beef with fake meat and wants regulators to investigate the potential health risks of plant-based alternatives.

December 3, 2019

As the fake meat industry continues to heat up, America’s cattle ranchers are fighting back. They want regulators to scrutinize the plant-based alternatives for potential health risks, The Wall Street Journal reports — and some are even referring to their new rivals’ products as dog food.

Their biggest beef? The labeling. The beef industry is lobbying for laws that would only permit the label “beef” or “meat” on products from live animals — not plant-based products or those derived from animal cells in labs. Label laws are now on the books in over a dozen states, with a federal bill introduced last month.

(Fake) Beef. It’s what’s for dinner

Sales of alternative meats grew 8% in the past 12 months while retail meat sales fell 0.4%. The plant-based industry now brings in nearly $1B in annual revenue — a 56% jump from 2015.

While plant-based meat still makes up just 1% of the entire meat market, beef producers know the steaks are high thanks to their friends in the milk business. Dairy farmers have been waging a losing battle with milk alternatives, as almond milk, soy milk, and other cow-milk alternatives have captured about 10% of that market. 

As ranchers sharpen their knives…

… the meatless patty makers have not cowered. Plant-based producers continue to tout their burgers as “healthier” alternatives, with a small “fraction of the environmental impact that comes from raising, transporting, and slaughtering cattle.”

Fast-food chains have become an interesting testing ground. The debut of Burger King’s “Impossible Whopper” this year contributed to the chain’s strongest quarterly sales gains since 2015. White Castle and others have also seen sizzling sales of plant-based offerings.

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