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‘Big Meat’ May Be Selling Veggie Burgers, But Still Expanding Factory Farming Operations

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It's difficult to see how Big Meat could be meaningfully interested in environmental causes while they're expanding their factory farming operations in the meat sector.

BETTINA MAKALINTAL: As shoppers have cut back on animal products — whether due to environmental concerns, health issues, or an ethical stance against animal cruelty—and look for appealing replacements, there’s no shortage of companies offering up choices. While dairy alternatives have seen the most stratospheric growth in recent years, meatless options have also seen a surge in popularity as beef and chicken substitutes become more enticing to the mainstream, with a 37.8 percent growth in sales from 2017 to 2019, according to research from the Good Food Institute…

It’s clear from alt-milk’s current success that Big Dairy has essentially failed to contain the soy, almond, and oat milk industries, though certainly not for lack of trying. Meat companies seem to be trying a different approach: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Through hopeful new lines and marketing campaigns, the meat industry is showing shoppers how its own products can be integrated into plant-forward eating instead of being replaced entirely. In 2019, Tyson—which produces an estimated 20 percent of all beef, pork, and chicken in the United States, and has previously backed Beyond Meat—launched a line of “plant-based” and blended meat products called Raised & Rooted…

Now that many of the world’s biggest meat corporations are getting into plant-based products, the question remains as to whether they can effectively contribute to the movement for more climate-friendly food. Is there reason for consumers to trust their new direction, and is it even possible for these companies to ameliorate the problems caused, in part, by their own systems of industrial meat production? The more plant-based a diet is, the more environmentally sustainable, a research review published in Sustainability concluded last year. That verdict echoed high-profile guidance from researchers of a study in Science in 2018, who found that avoiding animal products has “transformative potential” for the environment…

Naturally, there’s a financial incentive for meat companies to launch vegan-friendly lines, according to Brian Kateman, co-founder and president of Reducetarian Foundation. His goal through the Reducetarian movement is to view meat consumption not as an all-or-nothing choice, but through the perspective that every vegetarian meal a person eats helps advance a world in which fewer animal products are consumed. “It’s not necessarily because [meat companies] loathe factory farming, or have decided that they want to abandon the primary ways in which they make money,” he said…

For this reason, Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of food and agriculture at Friends of the Earth, doesn’t see the meat industry’s current push into vegetarian options as an effective step toward a more sustainable food system. “I actually think that these large company investments will do very little to cut the massive impact of the world’s largest meat companies,” she said. “Unless these companies actually slash their emissions, then they are not doing what they need to do to address the climate crisis.” Meat, fish, and dairy production use roughly 83 percent of the world’s farmland and are responsible for around 57 percent of our food system’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to that 2018 Science study on reducing food’s environmental impact…

With these statistics in mind, it’s difficult to see how Big Meat could be meaningfully interested in environmental causes while continuing to obtain most of their profits from factory farming. “It’s greenwashing, and it’s a smart marketing tool, and it’s a profit,” Hamerschlag explained… “[Meat companies] are meeting the market, but they are not addressing climate change,” Hamerschlag said. “Let’s just be clear about that: They are not slashing their greenhouse gas emissions—in fact, they continue to grow, because they’re expanding their operations in the meat sector”… In 2007, Smithfield promised to eliminate gestation crates, and later claimed to have fulfilled this commitment in 2018, but animal welfare groups found that the company was still keeping many pigs in cramped, unsanitary conditions. SOURCE…

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