US Ranchers, Fearing Vegan Protein, Seek Definition of 'Meat'

Just in case people didn’t already know that plant-based meat isn’t real meat.

By Ethan L. Johns
February 27, 2018

Image: Beyond Meat/Bareburger

As the plant-based diet becomes more accessible, as technology advances and as more and more eaters become aware of the sustainability and welfare issues implicated in the production of animal proteins, more consumers are opting for vegan and vegetarian options over meat. Heck, even McDonald’s is hawking a vegan burger these days.

Now, as the market for meat alternatives grows and becomes more normalized, the ranchers are starting to go on the defensive. Earlier this month, according to a CNBC report, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, asking for official definitions for the terms “beef” and “meat.”

While it seems pretty clear that people know their fake meat to be fake (Beyond Meat markets its Beyond Burgers by calling them “Plant-Based Burger Patties”), the cattlemen would nonetheless like the world to know that “beef” comes from the flesh of a cow, and that “meat” comes from an animal that was once living and breathing (rest in peace).

That means no burgers made from bovine stem cells, no sausages made from insects, no silky tofu sliders. They don’t know what that stuff is, but it sure as hell ain’t meat.

That’s not to say that meat producers are shaking in their cowboy boots… yet. After all, the global meat and seafood market is valued at around $844 billion in 2018, according to Statista, up from $741 billion in 2014. In comparison, the meat substitute market is projected, by Allied Market Research, to reach $5.2 billion by the year 2020.

That’s chump change in comparison, but when you consider the different assault angles—lab-grown “clean meat” from cow muscle cells, imitations made from soy, and even the old-fashioned veggie burger—those cattlemen probably feel like their livelihoods are under attack.

The Good Food Institute’s policy director, Jessica Almy, feels that the association’s energies would best be spent elsewhere.

"We think that the cattlemen could face their competition head on," Almy said to CNBC. "Or like Tyson and Cargill, they could invest in the future. But rather than do that, they're petitioning the USDA to police the use of certain terms on labels and skew the playing field in the cattlemen's favor."

Meat substitutes are not likely to disappear anytime soon—on the contrary, they should only increase in market share. So rather than relying on the definition of meat in an online dictionary, a focus on sustainable, quality products should be priority number one.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns