The success of plant-based meat substitutes and prospect of lab-grown meat is threatening Big Meat. Lab-grown meat, also called clean or cultured meat, uses animal cells to grow meat in the same way the cells would grow on a living organism----but without ranching, grazing and slaughter----a huge environmental and humane improvement.
Already White Castle serves the plant-based Impossible Burger and the major food supplier Sysco Corporation offers the Beyond Burger. U.S. consumers spent $698.6 million on plant-based meat in 2017----up 25 percent since 2012----and Goldman Sachs calls them one of the hottest emerging new trends.
Threatened by the trend, in February the U.S. Cattlemen's association (USCA) filed a petition with the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) over the commercial use of the word "meat." The petition charges that the use of 'beef' and "meat" for non-slaughtered products represents "misbranding" and causes consumer "confusion."
While Big Meat awaits a ruling on the petition, Missouri has already jumped on the bandwagon. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, before resigning his office amid a scandal, signed a "fake meat" law that "prohibits misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry." The bill was heavily lobbied by the Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Cattlemen's Association (MCA) and the Missouri Pork Association.
"This isn't a Missouri issue," said MCA Executive Vice President Mike Deering. "This is about protecting the integrity of the products that farm and ranch families throughout the country work hard to raise each and every day." Some European countries are following suit. In April, the French Parliament voted to outlaw the use of terms like "burger," "steak," "sausage," and the like to describe foods with no meat in them.
To deter competition, Big Meat has also added language to an agriculture spending bill that lab-grown meat must be regulated by the USDA not the FDA. Why? "USDA has historically gone to great lengths to support cattlemen [while] the FDA doesn't have the same mandate and so may be more open-minded toward clean meat production," writes Paul Shapiro, author of Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World.
There is one catch to Big Meat's war against meat substitutes and lab-grown meat. It is also investing in them. Tyson Foods, the country's largest meat producer, has invested in the vegan meat company Beyond Meat, the lab-grown meat companies Future Meat Technologies and Memphis Meats. Meat giant Cargill has also invested in Memphis Meats and reportedly sold at least four feedlots to redirect its investment into plant-based protein.
By way of explanation, Tom Hayes, Tyson President and CEO, said in a statement called "Why We Are Investing in Alternative Proteins" earlier this year, "We know what comes to mind when people think of Tyson Foods -- and that's chicken...but Tyson is also about cultured meats and plant-based proteins."
This is not the first time Big Ag has sought to protect its massive franchises while at the same time joining forces with more healthful competitors and hedging its bets. After noting the success of soymilk, Dean Foods, the largest U.S. milk processor bought the soymilk Silk from organic pioneer White Wave.
Dean was well aware of the fact that soymilk and other non-dairy milks----rice, oat, coconut, pea, almond, cashew, hemp, flax, hazelnut, quinoa and more----were the wave of the future. In fact, such milks generated $1.4 billion in U.S. sales last year, up 54 percent since 2012, while U.S. milk consumption fell 25 percent from 1996 to 2016.
Like Big Meat protecting its franchise, Big Dairy is fighting for the exclusive right to use the term "milk"----while simultaneously investing in the non-dairy milks of the future.