Whether egg-free mayo, non-dairy milks or meat alternatives, the U.S.'s food preferences are clearly changing. A full half of Americans surveyed said they would support a ban on slaughterhouses and would prefer slaughter-free meat (such as "lab-grown") and animal-free meat. Sixty percent of U.S. consumers claim to be reducing their consumption of meat-based products. Of those cutting back, 55 percent say the change is permanent.
Meanwhile the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) dependent dairy lobby has tried to prohibit non-dairy products from using the term "milk." Last year, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (Democrat-Wisconsin) introduced the "Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act (DAIRY PRIDE Act)" that would prohibit the use of the term "milk."
"Dairy farmers in Wisconsin work tirelessly every day to ensure that their milk meets high standards for nutritional value and quality," said Senator Baldwin, not addressing Big Dairy's reliance on antibiotics and animal drugs----hardly "quality." "Imitation products have gotten away with using dairy's good name for their own benefit, which is against the law and must be enforced." So far, the Act is languishing in Congress.
And there have been other Big Food fights. A few years ago, threatened by sales of the egg-free Just Mayo, made by Hampton Creek (now called Just) the American Egg Board, an industry-funded promotion group overseen by the USDA, spent two years and at least $59,500 smearing the product. CEO Joanne Ivy was forced to step down in disgrace in 2015 when an email she wrote to a consultant saying the board was accepting "your offer to make that phone call to keep Just Mayo off Whole Foods shelves," was revealed.
The American Egg Board hired a high priced PR firm to attack Just Mayo and deployed pop-up ads to outrank, replace or obscure search results when Internet users looked for "Beyond Eggs," "Hampton Creek," and "Just Mayo." The Board's dirty tricks show how much money is at stake.
As it takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef, even Big Meat realizes traditional animal-based agricultural models are unsustainable. Five million acres of rainforest are destroyed every year in South and Central America alone to create cattle pasture, along with the greenhouse gases, water pollution and animal abuse caused by beef production. Clearly meat alternatives including lab-grown meat reduce environmental degradation
But will Big Meat, with its massive distribution channels, co-opt the meat alternative industry, using its cheap and environmentally destructive GMO products under a greenwashed banner? Certainly billionaire Bill Gates is a strong promoter of GMOs and seed giants like Monsanto and he has also invested in lab-grown meats.
Moreover, if lab-grown meat is regulated by the USDA instead of the FDA, as the meat industry hopes, environmentally conscious startups will likely be locked out. "It is wrong for Congress to use a spending bill to mandate that agencies create unnecessary new regulations and, even worse, to do so without any input from the small businesses that are being regulated," Jessica Almy of the Good Food Institute observed.
"The kind of inspection that would take place at a slaughterhouse today is not the type of expertise that would be required in the inspection of a cultured meat facility," agrees Isha Datar, executive director of the nonprofit research institute New Harvest in New York City.
There is a final irony in Big Meat's war against meat alternatives even as it invests in them. For years, government agencies backing Big Meat have contended that GMOs, gene altered animals like the AquaBounty salmon and even cloned meat do not have to be labeled because they are "no different from food derived from" conventional means.
But now, even though that lab-grown meat is identical to the meat from the animals it raises and slaughters, Big Meat contends there is a world of difference.
(Article changed on October 10, 2018 at 18:32)