by Mayzie Purviance
Over time, we as humans have combined various products for better or worse. Phrases such as “Bacon makes everything better,” and the vocal stylizing’s of the country music power couple Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash prove that sometimes, combining two things can be beneficial. On the other end of the spectrum lies many things which people believe just don’t go together (such as pineapple on pizza). Then there’s a grey area — a grey area which can be summed up with two words: flexitarian diet.
According to Health Line, the flexitarian diet is a style of eating which encourages mostly plant-based foods while allowing meat and other animal products in moderation.
How is this different from a classic omnivore diet? Vegetarian Nook provides a simple answer: belief and philosophy. Although omnivores and flexitarians eat both plants and animals, flexitarians tend to stick to plant-based food products for “common vegetarian issues” such as environmental impact, animal welfare and wellness concerns. Lucky for flexitarians, innovations in the proteins sector are on the horizon to fit their needs. Tyson Foods is among the leading companies to hop on the band wagon with their Raised & Rooted™ Blended hamburger patties: traditional meat mixed with plant-based protein.
“There have always been segments of our industry that have used fillers in hamburger, but this is probably the first time we’ve seen the potential for a national campaign to promote it through traditional marketing channels and under some of the promotional programs,” Leo McDonnell, Director Emeritus, U.S. Cattleman’s Association, said.
McDonell voiced his concerns about the future of the beef industry with this innovation. He predicts if demand for the blended burger rises, we could see a decline in 90-percent lean ground beef demand.
“We are going to continue to see variations of plant protein products being developed. The problem with the plant-based is they are neither as healthy or as nutrient-rich and these hybrid products compromise the nutrition and health platforms that beef offers in a sound healthy diet,” McDonnell said.
Labeling of hybrid proteins comes to question. The Real MEAT Act dictates that products labeled beef are defined as those containing edible meat tissue harvested in whole form from domesticated Bos indicus or Bos taurus cattle. This leaves producers wondering how hybrid proteins will be labeled.
“I would hope that any product that is not 100 percent beef will be required to list all other ingredients, which is normal in other packaged foods. How they are allowed to label it will be important as with hybrids you’re going against some pretty powerful and deep pocket folks,” McDonnell said. “Remember it’s just been less than a year now since some of these same industry groups (Tyson & Cargill) were able to get the FSIS to allow them to label LFTB, or what some called ‘pink slime’ as ‘ground beef.’ Don’t be surprised to see these same folks who are also developing these hybrid beef products on the opposite side of you on these issues. Remember they are in the protein market.”
Another issue for producers is the fear of, “who will buy hybrid meat?”
As quoted in a previous Western Ag Reporter article and stated in the Center for Food Integrity’s “The Protein Play: Emerging Trend and Consumer Appetites for Protein Alternatives,” the purchase of alternative proteins is on the rise amongst consumers who don’t identify as vegans. With the marketing power of bigger companies like Tyson, it’s worrisome for meat demand.
“Some of these have been around a long time and right now they are expensive and very compromised in health, nutritional value and environmental impact,” McDonnell said. “While there will always be folks who prefer vegetarian products, their success will be found in how many meat eaters they can swing their way.”
However, as McDonnell stated, there is a way to work this to the beef industry’s advantage.
“With challenges come opportunities, and as we have seen with fake beef products, beef has the nutritional and environmental edge,” McDonnell said. “So, we just need to take the national attention these products are getting and turn it to our advantage and capitalize on the opportunity. I believe we are starting to see some great beef campaigns that are doing that.”
The “flex” in flexitarian means the diet is flexible, as is their opinions of the beef industry. By presenting the facts in an attempt to change the public’s perception, beef demand could increase, McDonnell said. He added that it’s up to the beef industry to capitalize on these opportunities and market true science to back up beef’s benefits.
“Again, we have some real opportunity here,” McDonnell said. “Done right, it could actually put us in a stronger position in the cattle and beef industry.”BACK