MINNEAPOLIS —"Our mission is to completely replace the use of animals as a food technology by 2035. We're dead serious about it and we believe it's doable. I was confident that we would succeed when I launched this company, and now I'm completely confident. It's game over for the incumbent industry — they just don't know it yet.”
That statement was made by Pat Brown in a recent interview at a gathering called The Web Summit. Brown is the founder and CEO of the synthetic meat product called Impossible Foods.
Impossible Foods product line includes two products. One is the well-known Impossible Burger, which is available as a cooked burger at many McDonalds and Starbucks stores; or as synthetic ground beef at chains such as Target and Trader Joes. The other product is a seasoned synthetic sausage product.
Ben Lilliston, the Director of Rural and Climate Strategies at the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy in Minneapolis, believes Brown’s specific claim may not need to be taken seriously; but beef farmers and their allies should pay attention to the spirit of the comment.
“It’s hard to see animal agriculture disappearing by 2035, but changes in the industry are likely to be driven by consumers, farmers interest in regenerative systems, climate change and new technology,” he said.
Some of those new technologies will likely include a variety of red meat look-alikes.
“I think this trend is something farmers should pay attention to, at least partially, because there is a lot of money behind the move toward synthetic and plant-based meat — including from the meat industry itself. You have companies like Tyson and Cargill that have invested in the lab-grown Memphis Meats. JBS and Cargill are invested in plant-based meats and Silicon Valley is also very interested in this technology,” Lilliston said.
The money from the corporate goliaths is following consumer trends, Lilliston says. He points to a recent survey, conducted by Cargill, which indicates consumers are more and more concerned about the environment and the intersection between climate and food. Although the report shows consumers trust agriculture to be a solution to climate disruption, the meat industries reputation has been tarnished recently.
“The dominant form of animal production, the large-scale CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) is associated with water and air pollution and climate concerns — and not just by consumers, but also by rural residents that are not part of the industry,” Lilliston said. “From the meatpackers’ perspective, the recent labor issues around Covid-19 in meatpacking plants points to another vulnerability in the industry.”
The Land asked a group of climate disruption activists in the Twin Cities whether or not they ate Impossible Meats products. A dozen responded and all but one had eaten them.
“I eat Impossible Burgers,” Michelle Shaw, a climate disruption activist from the Twin Cities, said. “It's between those and Beyond Meat patties and it just depends on what's on sale that week at Target. What I've been doing as of late is making vegan Juicy Lucys with them, and they're absolutely delicious.”’
“I’ve had the impossible burger multiple times. I’ve eaten it in restaurants, fast food, and cooked it myself at home,” said Lisa Chou, a climate disruption activist from the environmental group MN350. “The taste has sometimes been nearly identical to a beef burger in flavor and texture and other times a little different. They’ve had two formulations over the years, a 1.0 and 2.0 version. The 2.0 definitely was an improvement in texture.”
Some we had spoken with told The Land they didn’t want to consume the genetically modified soy and yeast in the Impossible Meat products.
The Center for Food Safety has sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for allegedly not adequately testing the genetically modified components in Impossible Meats products before approving them for consumption.
“This is the first time that people have consumed this product,” Jaydee Hansen, the Policy Director for the Center for Food Safety, wrote in the organizations blog. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is supposed to require testing in this situation to make sure that this novel protein does not cause allergic reactions in people. Unfortunately, instead of requiring Impossible Foods to file a new food additive petition, FDA allowed the company to use a weak regulatory process called "Generally Recognized As Safe" (GRAS) where the company does its own research and chooses its own reviewers to self-certify that its product is safe for human consumption.”
Impossible Foods is forging ahead, regardless of legal challenges. On April 6 it announced a national advertising campaign for the Impossible Burger. As part of its announcement, the company made it clear it was going to continue its growth at the expense of the livestock industry.
“Following a year of epic growth, Impossible products are now in about 20,000 grocery stores and 30,000 restaurants, with up to 82 percent of sales coming at the direct expense of animal-derived products,” Impossible Foods said in its April 6 press release.
Two days later, on April 8, the Reuters news service reported Impossible Foods was planning a $10 billion initial public stock offering sometime in 2021.
“This would be substantially more than the $4 billion the company was worth in a private funding round in 2020. It would highlight growing demand for plant-based meat products, driven by environmental and ethical concerns among consumers,” Reuters reported.