Radke: Fake meats
Despite the loud and proud rantings of the meatless movement, just 7.3 million of the 325 million people in the United States follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle; however, an additional 22.8 million people follow a “vegetarian-inclined diet.”
Consumers may be basing their dietary choices on misconceptions they believe about the animal agricultural industry. Going meatless could stem from standing on some ethical high ground, or perhaps they believe eating tofu and lettuce will somehow save the planet, or they may have been duped that a high-carbohydrate diet ladened with plant-based alternatives to animal proteins is truly a healthier option.
Regardless, whatever the reason a person decides to forego an entire food group, it’s important for beef producers to recognize that this societal shift has fast-tracked the popularity of alternative food choices such as almond milk, veggie burgers, faux bacon and sausage and plant-based “meat-like” (very processed) food products.
On the dairy side, as producers struggle to make ends meet, competition from non-dairy milk products is a real challenge. In fact, according to market researcher, Mintel, “New research reveals that non-dairy milk sales have seen steady growth over the past five years, growing an impressive 61 percent since 2012, and are estimated to reach $2.11 billion in 2017.”
Could the beef industry be headed for the same challenge? Not if the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have their way. In Washington, D.C., they’ve been fighting to create awareness about the issue of faux meats marketing themselves alongside beef products, and heated discussions about labeling are currently making headlines in the mainstream media.
The argument is valid, in my opinion. After all, you can’t milk an almond, and there’s no meat in pea protein powders. Why do we continue to confuse our consumers with distracting marketing claims?
Take, for example, how out of control food labels have gotten in the grocery store today. Eggs are labeled as gluten free. Water is labeled as non-GMO. From organic to natural to grass-fed to cage-free to pasture-raised to antibiotic- and hormone-free, there are so many marketing claims for consumers to wade through, and unfortunately, these companies only get richer as consumers pay more and more to alleviate guilt, fear and confusion based on these labels.
Now marketers want to take advantage of consumers who want to go meatless. By calling something that is not meat or dairy an alternative meat or dairy product, it implies they are one and the same, and they clearly are not.
Yes, absolutely, we should be clearly labeling and defining these products to show exactly what they are instead of placing them alongside a ribeye in the meat case and trying to sell them as a safer, more nutritious, guilt-free alternative product.
I don’t want my meat grown in a garden or in a test tube in a laboratory, but do our consumers feel the same way?
As an industry, we need to fight for truth in labeling, and we need to protect the definition of meat. Beef is beef. Pea proteins and test-tube experiments are something else; let’s not confuse the two.