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  • The future of meat is split into two very different paths. One that begins in the windy

  • flats of Kansas, within the manure laden pens of cows fattened on excessive amounts of corn,

  • and another that starts on the squeaky clean dishes of a lab, grown from yeast and modified

  • to mirror the taste of its rival. Each has its environmental impact, but they both reveal

  • certain unpleasant realities in our food system. Industrial factory farming and plant-based

  • meats in many ways have co-evolved in a world that seeks cheap and easy silver-bullet solutions

  • to nuanced food system problems. Ultimately, these two meats are intertwined. And to understand

  • this new wave of plant-based meats, we need to understand the current state of beef farming.

  • So today, I'm going to ask three important questions: what are plant-based meats replacing?

  • What are its impacts? And what does it mean that we are placing our trust in these tech-based

  • meats to fix our food system?

  • So first, the tale of the hamburger. Trace your way back to its humble beginnings, and

  • you'll find yourself in Garden City, Kansas. A town that the author of Omnivore's Dilemma,

  • Michael Pollen, calls Cattle Metropolis. An apt name considering that the city is the

  • birthplace of one of the first CAFOs or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, and now hosts a

  • variety of these CAFOs in and outside its city limits. These feeding operations are

  • part of the reason why the price of hamburger beef can stay so low. They pack a ton of cows

  • in a small area to maximize the profit from the land. To put it simply, the way cows are

  • raised for slaughter on these feedlots is more akin to a factory than a farm, and thus

  • the often-used monikerfactory farm.” After they've met the requisiteentry

  • weightcalves are brought to these feedlots and are forced to subsist on a concoction

  • of corn, protein supplements, and antibiotics until they are around 1,100 pounds or 14-16

  • months old. Then, they are sent to slaughter. Alongside the variety of animal cruelty concerns

  • directed at concentrated feedlots, several environmental issues arise from stuffing cows

  • in tight quarters, and then, in turn, stuffing their bodies full of vegetation that their

  • stomachs aren't equipped for. One of the major issues for these types of feeding operations

  • is, to put it bluntly, poop. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, “large

  • farms can produce more waste than some U.S. citiesclaiming that “a feeding operation

  • with 800,000 pigs could produce over 1.6 million tons of waste a year.” For open-air feedlots,

  • often this waste just piles up underneath cattle, and when it rains, runs off into waterways,

  • ultimately causing downstream drinking water pollution in the form of antibiotics and higher

  • levels of nitrates. For indoor factory farms, manure often has to be scooped out, but because

  • it tends to be too antibiotic laden or the specter of diseases like E. Coli persist,

  • farmers refuse to put it on their fields. As a result, operators dump the manure in

  • holding ponds that can overflow if it rains, or pile it high and wait. In addition, the

  • surrounding air quality is greatly affected through an excess of particulate matter, ammonia,

  • and hydrogen sulfide, which can cause damage to the lungs and eyes among other symptoms.

  • But the most infamous gas that finds its way into the atmosphere from these corn-fed cows

  • is methane. Cows, quite literally, aren't able to stomach corn. As a result, belching

  • and the decomposition of their manure happens at a much higher level, releasing methane

  • that has caused livestock to account for between 14.5 percent and 18 percent of the world's

  • total yearly emissions. So when we look towards replacing a meat-based system with plant-based

  • alternatives, this is what we're trying to replace. A factory system that churns through

  • cows and externalizes waste onto the surrounding communities and environment.

  • As a response, plant-based retailers have stepped in. They seek to replace beef with

  • what they say is something better. This meat is not born out of the manure-laden feedlots,

  • but instead from the test-kitchens of fancy start-ups like Beyond Meat and Impossible

  • Foods. But what exactly are these beef-like alternatives? And are their impacts actually

  • less than beef? Once again, let's go back to the beginning. In the case of the Impossible

  • Burger, which you can now buy at fast-food chains like Burger King, that beginning centers

  • around engineers, scientists, and huge machines like a mass-spectrometer. This seems like

  • a far cry from the confines of a feedlot. The secret to the Impossible Burgers success

  • is years of research figuring out what makes a hamburger taste like a hamburger and then

  • translating those components into plant-based alternatives. Chief among those is a compound

  • called heme. Essentially this is what makes the Impossible Burgerbleedand gives

  • it that meaty flavor. Instead of coming from a cow however, the heme Impossible Burgers

  • use originates from the root nodules of a soy plant. Now, to incorporate that heme protein

  • into their burgers on a mass scale they genetically modified a yeast cell to produce the heme

  • at high levels. So, unlike the bean burgers you might make at home, these new vanguards

  • of the plant-based meat world are much less farm-based as they are lab-based. But the

  • results speak for themselves. Impossible Burgers are struggling to keep up with the massive

  • demand and Beyond Meat is currently valued at $7.5 billion with its product available

  • in over 35,000 locations. But, does this growing transition to plant-centric meat have a serious

  • impact on the environment? According to a Beyond Meat sponsored study, it definitely

  • does. The research claims that a Beyond Meat Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions,

  • requires 46% less energy, 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land

  • use. These are significant differences. However, it's worth noting that this study is backed

  • by Beyond Meat, and independent studies on the environmental impact of various plant-based

  • meat corporations are needed for true accountability .

  • As these two types of meat continue to butt heads on the public stage, here's what we

  • know. Demand for cheap beef has given rise to an industrial farming system that pollutes

  • the air, water, and earth via the factory-like structure of its corn-fed beef operations.

  • Globally it has also led to significant swaths of deforestation in old-growth forests like

  • the Amazon, clearing the way for more and more cattle operations. In response to this

  • destruction, food-tech startups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are proposing a

  • cleaner, more ethical option. But we should be wary of relying on techno-fixes, especially

  • in the food world, to clean up our messes. In many ways, these alternative meats are

  • another example of seeking an easy solution to the complicated problem of climate change.

  • So, in addition to changing how much beef we eat, we also need to change the way we

  • approach our food system and farms. In fact, there are ways to raise cattle that might

  • actually heal the land and sequester carbon dioxide. But they require hard work and planning.

  • Joel Salatin's rotational grazing operation at Polyface farm is a perfect example of this.

  • They continuously move livestock from one field to another to allow for a varied diet,

  • healthy animals, and carbon-absorbing pasture. At the end of the day, alternative solutions

  • like Polyface Farms are not necessarily an indictment of these new food-tech companies,

  • they merely highlight the fact that silver-bullet business solutions don't exist when it comes

  • to climate change. A market-based solution will never single-handedly solve a market-created

  • problem. The only thing that will truly turn this around is doing everything all at once.

  • So yes, that means eating more Beyond Burgers or veggie burgers, but it also means employing

  • other solutions like subsidizing farmers during their transition away from feedlots and towards

  • more environmentally and humanely aligned farming practices.

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B1 US meat plant based plant based beef food system

Are plant-based meats actually sustainable? (Impossible Burger & Beyond Meat)

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/26
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