Breakfast with Beck: Beef, There’s No Alternative

by Mayzie Purviance

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) mission is “To serve the beef industry by improving the business climate and growing global beef demand.”  In other words, it’s NCBA’s duty to defend beef.  This statement rang true at the 50th Annual Public Lands Council Meeting in Great Falls, Montana.  NCBA Director of Government Affairs Danielle Beck presented “Beef, There’s No Alternative,” on Friday, September 27 to a room full of attendees over breakfast.

“Our policy is pretty broadly worded.  It’s about the definition of the beef.  And that’s because you in this room work hard to produce a safe, affordable, nutritious protein,” Beck said.

NCBA’s policy regarding “fake meat” and the term beef is as follows:

“…WHERESAS, alternative sources of protein are being labeled and promoted as an equivalent or substitute for beef, and

WHEREAS, the use of traditional beef nomenclature on alternative products is confusing to consumers and weakens the value of products delivered from actual livestock production,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, NCBA oppose alternative proteins being permitted to use nomenclature associated with protein sourced from livestock production and oppose these proteins claiming to be equivalent to, or a substitute for, proteins derived from livestock production,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, NCBA support the definition of beef to only include products derived from actual livestock raised by cattle farmers and ranchers and harvested for human consumption.”

Beck focused the remainder of her presentation on NCBA’s definition of beef.  She said it is more than just a food product of animal agriculture.

“The word beef stands for more than just the product on the plate.  It stands for that legacy.  It stands for the hard work that you put in each and every day,” Beck said.

She showed the audience a slide explaining fake meat.  Fake meat can be divided into two categories: plant-based and lab-grown.

Plant-based fake meat is regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and is no longer marketed to a niche subset of consumers — meaning it’s not only marketed to vegans and vegetarians, but traditional meat consumers as well.  Plant-based fake meat includes products such as Beyond Beef® and Impossible™ Foods.

Lab-grown fake meat is not yet available in markets, it’s still in the research and development process.  Lab-grown fake meat is made from cells collected from actual livestock and will be regulated by the FDA and USDA.

Beck’s next slide displayed four quotes about plant-based fake meat, all by Impossible™ Foods CEO Pat Brown.  One of the quotes read: “By 2035, we want to have basically catalyzed the replacement of animals as food production technology globally, full stop.”

“I’m here to tell you today we have some really great data that we got last week from our survey we conducted,” Beck reassured the group.  “NCBA surveyed more than or just under 2,000 consumers.  And when unaided, less than 60 percent could tell you one fake meat product.  So while the media wants everybody to believe that these products are here to save the world, that these products are up to replace beef, I’ve got some data that tells you the majority of consumers really have no clue about any of these products and they’re not purchasing these products.”

Beck showed the attendees three ingredient lists that all looked relatively similar.

“Which one of these products does not belong?” Beck asked the room.  “One of these products is not a fake meat product.  Can anybody guess which one that is?”

After much deliberation, a member of the audience guessed the middle product, which was correct, Beck affirmed.

“And it’s not something you would want to feed to your children,” she added.

Beck clicked the next slide and many members of the audience audibly gasped and chuckled.  The slide revealed the middle column to be ingredients of vegan dog food.

Fake meat economics was another issue Beck heavily stressed.  Despite the wake of Beyond Meat® becoming publicly owned and the increased media attention of retailers who offer fake meat alternatives, fake meat shares a whopping 0.1 percent of the 2018 meat market, she said.  Beck said projected consumption for fake meat in 2019 is only a few ounces per capita while beef consumption is projected at more than 58 pounds per capita — the fourth straight year of increased beef consumption.

Another concern the budding industry faces is the production cost of fake meat.

“The first [lab-grown fake meat] burger in the EU was unveiled in 2013 and it cost $300,000 to produce.  That cost of production is now down to $11.  The technology is continuously evolving,” Beck said.

Due to the cost of production decrease, Beck said the lab industry envisions “meat breweries” for commercial production and their first market entry could be as early as 2019.

Beck highlighted the key players to watch in the expected fake meat battle for both plant-based and lab-grown meat: USDA, FDA, barnyard trade associations, traditional protein and fake meat companies, Silicon Valley, animal rights activists (such as the Good Food Institute) and basic consumer groups.

She drove home the difference between the USDA and FDA and why their regulatory framework matters.  Beck pointed out that the FDA has more jurisdiction to regulate fake meat products and how that could be problematic in the future.

“There is no preapproval process at FDA, they oversee 80 percent of the grocery store.  They just don’t have the resources to create a group, but they also aren’t really taking course in action after products have already entered into the market,” Beck said.  “We’ve seen what’s happened in the dairy industry.  Everything we’ve done, we ask, ‘how do we prevent ourselves from ending up in a position in which these plant-based products are labeled beef, like soy milk and almond milk are labeled right now?’.”

Fortunately, fake meat is to have joint oversight by USDA and FDA.  FDA will have pre-harvest oversight and USDA will have oversight of labeling and inspection activities.  The two agencies will work together during the pre-harvest transition period.  USDA and FDA are reviewing three separate comment periods and will determine a path moving forward and state legislative efforts will continue to determine state regulations.

“NCBA is going to continue advocating for a fairly even playing field,” Beck said.  “We have requested that USDA and FDA take enforcement action on inappropriately labeled plant-based fake meat products.  We are getting ready to roll out a host of initiatives in that regard.”

Beck said NCBA will continue to fight for beef through advocacy and education efforts to showcase the positive benefits of beef.


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