Plant-Based Patties not going away

Like it or not, plant-based patties are here to stay. Growth is expected to be close to $29 billion by 2025, and sales of plant-based products close to $12 billion this year, it is highly unlikely that this is a fad that will soon disappear.

According to market research firm Euromonitor, U.S. meat substitute sales in the packaged food industry, including frozen and shelf-stable meat alternatives, have risen an average of 15.4% each year between 2013 and 2018, outpacing the 1.2% average annual growth of processed meat over the same period. U.S. meat substitute sales in the packaged food industry, including frozen and shelf-stable meat alternatives, have risen an average of 15.4% each year between 2013 and 2018, outpacing the 1.2% average annual growth of processed meat over the same period.

This is evidenced by fast-food restaurants and grocery chains selling the patties and major food companies such as Cargill Incorporated and Tyson Foods investing in companies that produce these patties. Conagra said that it’s doubling down on its Gardein plant-based meat substitute brand, and its sales have quadrupled over the past four years. Kellogg owned Morningstar has expanded its offerings of products to compete with the growing marketplace.

Concern about ingredients and “Highly Processed.”

Despite the growth, there has been some backlash regarding the patties. Specifically against the Impossible burger with Consumer Reports

questioning the long-term safety of the ingredient, leghemoglobin, which gives the patty its meaty look and feel. Consumer Reports points out that the ingredient is derived from soybean roots and nodules that “have never been part of the human food supply,” and its effects on human health are not known. Impossible Foods contends that the 28-day study conducted by Consumer Reports was insufficient despite it showing changes in the blood chemistries that could indicate kidney problems.

In addition to the ingredient leghemoglobin, Consumer Reports has expressed concern about heme iron. According to the article responding to Rachel Konrad – Impossible Foods’ PR chief, “heme iron may contribute to the increased risk of colon cancer and other health problems that have been associated with red meat.” Konrad contends that heme iron is essential for the body that carries oxygen in your blood.

Consumer Reports is not the only company expressing concern regarding these patties. Both the CEOs of Whole Foods and Chipotle have stated the patties are highly-processed. Kelsey Piper in her article for Vox argues that the term “processed” is vague in context stating, “the term can refer to any food that’s been modified — to preserve it, to enhance its flavor, to add nutrients, or to make plant proteins taste like a hamburger.” Piper defends the plant-based patties by comparing them to the fact that foods that add vitamins or are pasteurized, such as yogurt are highly processed. Therefore, processed foods can also be healthy.

Critics state the patties are highly processed in the fact they contain 21 or 22 ingredients. University of California/Davis professor Frank Mitloehner when speaking to AgriTalk host Chip Flory stated, “that you are hard-pressed in identifying the difference between those items, versus let’s say, pet food.” To illustrate his point, he posted the following on his Twitter account:

patty and dog food

(FYI – the middle is the dog food)

To counteract this claim, Konrad made this point on Twitter:

beef retort

 

I will counter that the ingredients listed in Konrad’s tweet are naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, lipids, and steroids. Here is a comparison of the Impossible Burger with a beef burger for nutrition:

comparison

(image courtesy of https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/impossible-burger#nutrition)

Each has its own benefits, but it should be noted that while the Impossible Burger has more vitamins and minerals, they are added to the product versus a beef burger. Also, the Impossible Burger has a high amount of salt, with 16% of the daily value and carbohydrates.

Update: The Center for Consumer Freedom has launched a campaign calling plant-based patties “ultra-processed imitations”, and comparing them to dog food. Rick Berman, the center’s executive director wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal stating that it was no healthier than meat. The piece can be found here.

Are they good for the planet?

According to Impossible Foods, the company’s burger uses 87% less water, uses 96% less land, and produces 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than ground beef from cows. Beyond Meat, meanwhile, reports its meat uses 99% less water, uses 93% less land and generates 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, Impossible and Beyond Meat received the United Nations Environment Planetary Health Champion of the Earth Award.

If these studies are true, then it appears to be a boon for the environment. The University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems was commissioned by the makers of Beyond Meat to study the environmental impact of the patty to a comparably sized beef patty. They conducted a “cradle to distribution” study with the information provided by its suppliers and a study commissioned by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (Thoma et. Al., 2017). The study found:

Based on a comparative assessment of the current Beyond Burger production system with the 2017 beef LCA by Thoma et al., the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, has >99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of U.S. beef.

However, these facts have come into question. Dr. Mitloehner told CNET

“that we also have to think about the impact on air and water quality when evaluating whether plant-based or animal meat is better for the environment,” Mitloehner says there is not a simple way to determine objectively, which is better. He also notes that U.S. ranchers raise cattle that have the least impact on greenhouse gases compared to other countries, so that could have an impact on the study.

Conclusion

Regardless, if it is better for the environment or there is a question of the safety of the ingredients, these plant-based patties will continue to grow in sales. Despite the NCBA petitioning state legislatures to change the labeling not to read “burger,” these plant-based patties are not going away. The patties are not marketed solely for vegetarians, but also towards meat consumers as an alternative. There is the expression, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Perhaps farmers should consider contracting with some of the processors of the ingredients in these patties by planting more peas, canola and sunflowers for oil.

Update: The Wall Street Journal just published this article regarding the meat industry fighting back against plant-based patties

 

 

 

 

Agriculture can be part of the Solution to Climate Change

What if the government paid producers to be an effective tool in combat to fight climate change? What if private enterprise paid farmers to sequester carbon or for carbon-credits in a cap and trade exchange?

On October 30th, House Democrats’ climate panel explored what role agriculture can play in the climate crisis. Jennifer Moore-Kucera of American Farmland Trust urged Congress to seize the opportunity to engage ag through either legislation or “a transformational farm bill.” Experts at the committee were unanimous that agriculture can be a big part of the climate change solution through sequestering carbon in the soil. They also supported using the USDA conservation programs to focus on climate-friendly practices and called on more funding for research into this matter. Members of Congress want to know what policies they should adopt to “maximize carbon storage,” as well as “help farmers, ranchers, and natural resource managers adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

The USDA’s Economic Research Service published a study  titled Economics of Sequestering Carbon in the U.S. Agricultural Sector that studies this issue. It found that if farmers adopted conservation tillage or converting some land to either forest or grasslands, it could be economically feasible and could provide low-cost opportunities to sequester additional carbon in soils and biomass. The study took into account if farmers switched to conservation tillage and paid $125 per metric ton for permanently sequestered carbon, that as much as “72 to 160 million metric tons could be sequestered, enough to offset 4 to 8 percent of gross U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases in 2001.” The study also takes into consideration different scenarios for payment amounts, whether payments would be supplemented by current conservation programs, conversion to forestry or grasslands, and found different potentials in the amount of carbon sequestration.

Currently, there are six Democratic candidates in the race for the nomination that are advocating paying farmers to help fight climate change. All have similar means by paying farmers through either grants to convert to more sustainable practices or expanding conservation programs in the USDA. According to Politico, the candidates have not given a price tag on how much they would it would cost to fund their programs. However, Senator Elizabeth Warren has said she would provide $15 billion a year to USDA conservation programs. Former Vice President Joe Biden said the program should be part of potential carbon markets by allowing corporations, individuals, and foundations to contribute funding to offset their emissions.

There is one corporation currently that is paying farmers. A four-year-old startup called Indigo Ag wants to feed the world and pay farmers to be a part of the climate change solution. Via the Indigo Carbon marketplace, companies can pay farmers $15 to sequester one metric ton of carbon dioxide in the soil. The chief executive, David Wells, has lofty goals through regenerative agriculture, and the use of their products, half to 100 percent of the carbon dioxide could be sequestered. A more realistic goal was presented by Rattan Lal, a soil scientist who heads the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State University. He says the maximum soil sequestration that can be achieved, under ideal conditions, is nine billion tons. Indigo Ag makes non-GMO seed treatments that help farmers maximize their yield on row crops, including soybeans, rice, wheat, corn and cotton. The treatments consist of naturally occurring microbes, like plant-friendly bacteria and fungi. Farmers apply them to their seeds as a spray or powder coating before planting. In 2018, they had roughly 5,000 producers throughout the globe on 4 million acres. The company has also expanded into a sort of eBay, called Indigo Marketplace, and into assisting farmers using geospatial satellites. Incorporating this technology allows Indigo Ag and its customers to monitor the world’s food supply and figure out where to focus their efforts next.

Paying farmers and ranchers make sense from an environmental standpoint and an economic standpoint as well. As commodity prices have been at their lowest, paying producers would give offset their costs and encourage them to practice sustainability. As we lose 27 acres of prime agricultural land every minute to development, developers should bear the costs of degradation of these lands and helping to further contribute to climate change. Agriculture is a viable solution to carbon sequestration and climate change, and we should look further into this possibility.

Climate Change Could Alter Farming Landscape in the U.S.

If 2019 is any indicator of what is to come, then producers will need to adapt their practices to climate change.

The impact could change production levels depending on the region, with some states becoming less productive, and others will see little to no change.

In an article published by the USDA for their magazine Amber Waves, they found a correlation between climate change and agricultural productivity. Changes in temperature and precipitation can have different effects on crop and livestock production. For crops, the Oury index is a measure of aridity and rainfall with regards to temperature, which is an effective indicator of climate conditions and crop growth. Heat stress to livestock fertility, weight, and feed efficiency are measured with a Temperature-Humidity Index. It found that “changes in THI (Temperature-Humidity Index) and the Oury index varied by U.S. region.”

The map below shows the potential impact on ag productivity, assuming a 2-degree Celsius temperature increase and a one-inch decrease in precipitation. The TFP, or “total factor productivity,” accounts for both production and the cost of inputs like seed, irrigation, fertilizer, labor, equipment, and other factors.

august19_finding_wang_fig01 (1)

 

The USDA states that some states have gradually adapted to the changes in average climate conditions over time and have adopted, “technologies or practices that can mitigate damage from adverse weather.” While average changes in temperature and precipitation may not have severe impacts on productivity if they fall within historical fluctuation ranges. In contrast, “unexpected weather shocks, such as severe droughts that fall outside the range of historical weather fluctuations, have more significant impacts on regional productivity.”

While the above is true, it appears that the USDA is avoiding some of the underlying causes of these fluctuations. In an article written by Helena Bottemiller Evich for Politico, the “topic has historically been too politically toxic in the traditionally conservative agriculture sector, which fears more regulation while also being extremely reliant on government programs.”

The same article also points out that the USDA currently is spending less than 1% of its budget to fight climate change. Bottemiller Evich theorizes that the reason could be the current administration’s hostility towards discussing climate change. She states, “When new tools to help farmers adapt to climate change are created, they typically are not promoted and usually do not appear on the USDA’s main resource pages for farmers or social-media postings for the public.”

Farmers and ranchers could be a major player in the effort to reduce climate change. Currently, there are USDA climate hubs that were established to assist farmers to deal with “weather extremes” (climate change) that are operating on a shoestring budget. There are studies by the government stating that, perhaps, we should pay producers to sequester carbon by changing their tillage practices. What if private companies paid producers?

These ideas will be discussed in the next few posts as they merit talking about them in-depth. Agriculture could be the solution and not the problem as people may perceive.