Demand for more & cheaper meat underlies strikes over high fuel cost
PARIS, SAN FRANCISCO–– The “yellow vest” riots ripping apart France, bringing at least 412 arrests on December 1, 2018 alone, more than 260 injuries, half of them in Paris, and two reported deaths, are behind the scenes adding a social peace-and-justice imperative to the ecological and ethical concerns already driving the race to develop plant-based “meat” that will attract and satiate mainstream meat-eaters.
Identified with the yellow vests that French drivers must carry as emergency equipment, the “yellow vest” demonstrators took to the streets initially in protest against increased taxes on motor vehicle fuels, imposed to help reduce the carbon emissions that are driving global warming. The taxes have now been suspended until late spring 2019.
Cost of meat is inflammatory concern
But meat prices were not far behind the cost of diesel oil and gasoline as an inflammatory concern, emphasized by New York Times reporter Andrea Mantovani, for instance, whose December 2, 2018 feature “‘Yellow Vests’ Riot in Paris, but Their Anger Is Rooted Deep in France” both opened and ended with anecdotes centered on hunger for meat that many French people can no longer afford in accustomed abundance.
Traditional French cuisine includes animal products and byproducts at every meal. Going without meat, for perhaps the majority of French, translates into not eating. The amount of meat, eggs, and dairy products a family can afford to consume is, in France as in much of the rest of the world, the chief cultural measure of national prosperity and progress.
Changing the yardstick
Changing that yardstick, bringing calm to the streets and winning public acceptance of the lifestyle changes necessary to slow global warming, may require nothing less than the successful introduction of plant-based “meat” that is so much like meat from slaughtered animals that the average French consumer will never notice the difference.
Globally, the race to capture a plant-based “meat” market expected to be worth more than $6.5 billion by 2026 already appeared to be rounding the far turn and headed for the home stretch before the “yellow vest” riots erupted.
Tofu & tempeh dominate the European market
Makers of tofu and tempeh-based products held an apparently commanding lead, according to the Seattle-based consulting firm Coherent Market Insights. The brewed yeast-based Impossible Burger appeared to be positioned to charge, however, with cell-cultured meat coming up on the rail, and 3D-printed Novameat emerging from the crowded field as a possible surprise contender.
Europe, accounting for less than 10% of world population, presently accounts for 33% of total revenue from plant-based “meat” consumption, Coherent Market Insights reported.
But veggie “meats” have not caught on in France
Only about 1.5% of the French population are currently vegans or vegetarians, according to available data, but among adjacent nations the percentage of vegans and vegetarians ranges as high as 7% to 14% in Great Britain, and 10% in Germany and Italy.
More significantly, plant-based “meat” and “milk” alternatives have gained widespread acceptance elsewhere in Europe among mainstream consumers.
The rapid growth of European acceptance of plant-based “meat” has predictably scared the manure out of the French animal agriculture sector.
Language law protects animal agribusiness
As of 2017, France continued to produce and export the most chickens, second most cattle, and third most pigs of any of the 28 European Union nations, as it has for almost as long as the 27 years that the European Union has existed in present form.
Production and poultry, cattle, and pig farmer income have nonetheless dropped steeply in recent years.
Hoping to cripple the plant-based competition, French beef grower and member of parliament Jean-Baptiste Moreau in April 2018 won passage of a law imposing a fine of $370,000 on anyone who markets plant products using any such terms as “meat,” “milk,” “sausage,” “bacon,” or “steak,” which have traditionally been used to describe animal products.
This will inhibit progress in precisely the direction needed to lower the French national “carbon footprint” and contribution to global warming, which––as in most of the world––is produced as much by animal agriculture as by fossil fuel use in transportation.
JUST Meat to “plant flag in global meat market”
San Francisco-based JUST Meat, meanwhile, the apparent pace-setter in bringing cell-cultured “meat” to market, is reportedly expecting to “plant their flag in the global meat market” by making “its first commercial sale later this year, probably outside the U.S.,” summarized the December 1, 2018 edition of Sentient Media.
The JUST Meat flag almost certainly will not be planted in France soon, either.
“JUST’s production levels are enough to sell to high-end restaurants only, at the moment. Availability of [JUST Meat] chicken bites,” the first JUST Meat cell-cultured product, “will be very limited,” Sentient Media said.
JUST Meat founder Josh Tetrick told Bloomberg News that winning “a sizable chunk of the meat market” might take 10-15 years. But Tetrick thought JUST Meat might be selling cell-cultured “meat” to 500 restaurants and specialty retail stores within only two to three years.
Dutch & Israeli contenders
“The race to cell-based is heating up,” Sentient Media continued. “Memphis Meats,” also based in San Francisco, “aims to be price competitive with conventional products by 2021.”
Mosa Meat, of Maastricht in the Netherlands, a “newcomer to the cell-based meat scene, is led by Mark Post, the physiologist who developed the world’s first lab-grown meat burger in 2013,” Sentient Media recalled. “At the time, Post’s burger cost $330,000 to produce. The company is now planning to sell their lab-grown burgers in restaurants around Europe for $10 by 2021.”
Yet another contender is Future Meat Technologies, of Jerusalem, Israel. Founder Yaakov Nahmias explained recently to Food Navigator-USA that “instead of giving local farmers a barn and 50,000 chickens to cram inside,” following the poultry industry model pioneered by Tyson Foods, he hopes to “give them a small factory and 10,000 machines to make their own cell-based meat.”
The first such factory, however, does not yet exist.
Beyond Meat sales up 70%
“Most companies are still three or more years away from bringing products to market,” Sentient Media summarized. “But the movement away from animal proteins is real. According to the Good Food Institute, 12% of American consumers purchase plant-based [alternatives to meat] products. Beyond Meat sales are up 70% in the past year.”
Bigtime agribusiness has become increasingly involved, anticipating bigtime profits in getting around the historical necessity of raising animals, with all the associated costs, to sell meat, milk, and eggs.
The Merck pharmaceutical empire and the Bell Food Group, of Switzerland, in mid-2018 helped Mosa Meat to raise $8.4 millon in development capital, following the lead of Tyson Foods, “an early investor in plant-based ‘meat’ producer Impossible Foods,” according to Sentient Media, also involved in funding both Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies.
USDA vs. FDA
Cargill is reportedly also an investor in Memphis Meats, which nonetheless lags behind the $220 million in start-up money raised by JUST Meats.
Somewhat complicating the introduction of what are now “cell-cultured food products,” according to U.S. Department of Agriculture definition, USDA secretary Sonny Perdue and Food & Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb on November 16, 2018 announced their joint conclusion “that both the USDA and the FDA should jointly oversee the production of cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry.
“Drawing on the expertise of both USDA and FDA,” Perdue and Gottleib said in a prepared statement, “the agencies are today announcing agreement on a joint regulatory framework wherein FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation. A transition from FDA to USDA oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. USDA will then oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”
This is seen within the cell-cultured “meat” industry as potentially problematic because of the legislated mandate of the USDA to promote traditional animal agriculture.
The support of major corporate players in traditional agribusiness for cell-cultured alternatives, however, may include lobbying help to overcome obstacles to regulatory approval.
Impossible Burger might sizzle in France
The Impossible Burger, meanwhile, might have the best chance of winning over French consumers––if made widely available in France at affordable prices, meaning less than the price of comparable products made from slaughtered animals.
The Impossible Burger is now produced only at the company headquarters in Redwood City, California, just south of San Francisco, and is sold mainly through top-end burger restaurant chains. It is not yet available for retail sale.
“We started in 2011 with a simple question: ‘Why does meat taste like meat?’” says Impossible Foods founder Patrick O. Brown on the company web site. “We spent the next five years researching every aspect of the unique sensory experience of meat, from how it looks raw to how it sizzles and what happens when we sink our teeth into a burger. Then we recreated the precise flavors, textures, aromas, and nutrition of ground beef––using only plants.
Burgers for heme men
“The Impossible Burger is made from simple ingredients found in nature,” Brown explains, “including wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and heme,” a substance “responsible for the characteristic of taste and aroma of meat. It catalyzes all the flavors when meat is cooked. Heme is exceptionally abundant in animal muscle, and it’s a basic building block of life in all organisms, including plants. We discovered how to take heme from plants and produce it using fermentation.”
In that respect, the Impossible Burger production process resembles the process of manufacturing cell-cultured meat, milk, and leather, but Impossible Foods makes only the heme through brewing genetically modified yeast, not the whole food product. The heme is then combined with the more conventional plant-based food components.
“By producing our heme in yeast,” Brown boasts, “we avoid digging up soy plants to harvest the root nodules, which would promote erosion and release carbon stored in the soil. This enables us to produce heme sustainably at high volume and make plant-based meat for millions of people, offsetting the environmental impact of animal agriculture.”
But most soy products are made from beans
This claim, superficially positioning the Impossible Burger as an ecologically friendlier product than conventional soy-based rivals, overlooks that most soy products are made from soy beans, grown and harvested like any other beans, not from root nodules.
Brown makes other claims to environmental friendliness that put the Impossible Burger in approximately the same bracket as soy and tempeh products.
“Compared to a burger made from cows,” Brown says, “making an Impossible Burger uses about 1/20th the land, 1/4th the water, and produces 1/8th the greenhouse gas emissions.”
Tested on 188 rats
The Impossible Burger has not won PETA approval because 188 rats were used in safety testing to win or at least expedite product approval in the U.S. and abroad. PETA disputes that the rat tests were necessary.
Necessary or not, though, the Impossible Burger testing appears to have killed probably fewer rats than most conventional slaughterhouses trap and poison in an average week, while sales of Impossible Burgers in more than 2,000 restaurants around the world spare hundreds of cattle from slaughter each and every day.
Says Impossible Foods senior vice president for global sales Stephanie Lind, “Based on a ‘diner intercept’ study we commissioned late last year, about three-quarters of people who order the Impossible Burger are regular meat eaters.”
Employing about 250 people as of mid-2018, Impossible Foods claims annual earnings of $6.5 million dollars, or about one thousandth of the potential global market share for plant-based “meat” products estimated by Coherent Market Insights.
Introducing the “vegan meat jet printer”
Novameat, a start-up founded by Italian bioengineer Giuseppe Scionti in Barcelona, Spain, debuted with the dual advantages of proximity to the potential French market and being already within the European Union. Scionti claims to have developed a 3D-printed process for making a plant-based “steak” or “chicken breast,” with the textures of the actual meats, but made entirely from vegetable proteins.
Reports the online periodical 3Dprintingindustry.com, “Scionti has created a reddish paste including ingredients such as rice, peas, and seaweed protein – all containing amino acids with nutritional properties – which is then shaped into a fillet using a customized 3D printer,” similar to the 3D printers now used to make a variety of plastic products.
“According to Scionti,” 3Dprintingindustry.com says, “additively manufacturing 100 grams of vegetable meat costs just under $3.00 and takes approximately 30 minutes.
“In addition, this price is [expected] to decrease upon commercialization due to increased volume production.”
3Dprintingindustry.com earlier reported that “The University of Washington’s Alshakim Nelson has reportedly discovered a novel way to ferment yeast with a 3D printer.”
This process may also have potential applications in developing commercially successful plant-based “meats”, but so far has been used only to make ethanol alcohol.
Brexit may erase British standards
The toughest competition for new plant-based “meat” products, however, is likely to come from the advertising and marketing clout of traditional meat industry––including in the United Kingdom, which boasts more vegans than any other European nation, but may soon become open to inexpensive meat imports from the U.S. as result of “Brexit,” the impending British exit from the European Union.
Explained Guardian reporter Tom Levitt on November 22, 2018, “Gestation crates and the chemical growth hormone ractopamine – both banned in the U.K.,” under European Union standards – “are regularly used in the U.S. pig industry, which achieves the lowest costs of production in the world.”
“We expect the U.K. to accept our product”
British environment secretary Michael Gove “has said the U.K. would not drop its standards on animal welfare in agreeing any U.S. trade deal” which might offset the post-Brexit loss of easy access to European markets, Levitt continued.
But the U.K. post-Brexit might not have much negotiating clout with the U.S., Levitt and others have pointed out.
Said U.S. National Pork Producers Council vice president Nick Giordano, “The U.K. has to decide whether it’s really leaving the E.U. or not. We expect the U.K. to accept our product without equivocation. Americans eat it, so it’s good enough for our friends across the pond.”
Cheap imports have undercut U.K. reforms before
Recalled Levitt, “The U.K.’s decision to take a global lead in banning gestation crates saw a collapse in the numbers of U.K. pig farmers. Cheap bacon from countries that had not introduced a ban flooded into the U.K., via retailers and the food service sector. U.K. pig meat imports from Denmark rose by 50% and from Germany by 400% between 1997-2007, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.”
Plant-based “meat” products are currently in direct marketplace competition mostly with more expensive meats from animals raised according to organic standards, and/or the various “happy meat” standards set by organizations including the Royal SPCA Assured program in Great Britain [formerly called Red Tractor], Humane Farm Animal Care, the Animal Welfare Institute, the American Humane Association, and Global Animal Partnership, begun in 2008 by Whole Food Markets founder John Mackey.
“Yellow vests” will judge
To capture the much larger global market share anticipated by Coherent Market Insights and other food industry analysts, plant-based “meat” product manufacturers will have to out-compete factory farmers, both in terms of price and meat-eaters’ tastes.
The makers of Impossible Burgers and developers of cell-cultured and 3D-printed plant-based “meat” products have their bets down.
The “yellow vests” and others like them will pick the winners.