Impossible meat

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economics / food

Alt meat isn’t going to stay alt for long, and cattle are looking more and more like stranded assets

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While corn is hitting a six-year price highs there is an intense debate around plant based meat. Currently Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Nestlé are the main players but the alt-meat space is getting crowded fast. After a short trial in the St Louis area, the Impossible Whopper will be available at Burger Kings in US at all of its 7,200 U.S. locations and is already available for some time at White Castle and many other chains as well as in grocery stores.

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There are many issues that need to be overcome before the alternatives to meat conquer the markets. The Impossible Whopper is priced slightly higher than the meat burgers on the menu. The higher price tag is mostly because of scale – it is much cheaper to produce alt-meat compared to beef. The demand is however higher than what the companies can produce and scale will come. Claims that the plant-based meat products are healthier raise important questions regarding the high levels of salt in alt-meats. Although reducing red meat in the diet (and substituting it with greens) may have health benefits, replacing meat with its “impossible” alternative may be much worse. To be fair, alt-meats are not designed to be healthier – they are supposed to be more environmentally conscious.

Part of the appeal of the new burgers is their smaller environmental footprint. Beef is the most wasteful food on the planet. Cows are not optimized to make meat; they’re optimized to be cows. It takes 36,000 calories of feed to produce 1,000 calories of beef. In the process, it uses more than 430 gallons of water and 1,500 square feet of land, and it generates nearly ten kilograms of greenhouse-gas emissions. In comparison, an Impossible Burger uses 87 percent less water, 96 percent less land, and produces 89 percent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions. Beyond Meat’s footprint is similarly svelte.

It turns out however that giving up meat may not have much of an effect on climate change. Although meat substitutes market is rapidly growing it remains to be seen whether alternative-meat products are the beginning of the end of the beef industry. One thing is certain – while these new products are getting better and there is plenty of room for innovation and growth the meat industry can hardly improve much.

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