Plant-based meat substitutes seem to be making headlines recently, with Burger King starting to sell the Impossible Burger, a burger that’s meat free, and states like Arkansas are trying to require only products from animals use the words “burger” or “jerky.”
But, how does it affect farmers in Huntingdon County?
Matt Barnett, president of the Huntingdon County Farm Bureau, said the effect so far has been minimal.
“It is known, but I haven’t seen or heard of anything that it is affecting,” he said.
Barnett said the industry will have to wait to see how it will truly affect them.
“Right now (non-animal meat) is in the beginning stage, so we’ll see how it’s going to pan out,” he said, adding, “I think consumers prefer real beef than something that would be created in a lab.”
Barnett said he would be generally in favor of not allowing non-animal meats to use the terms “burger,” “meat,” or “jerky,” as is being attempted in states like Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming.
“I think people need to know the difference between what’s made in a lab … and what’s grown on a farm,” he said.
Bob Whittaker, farm manager of Separate Peace farm, outside of Huntingdon, agreed and compared it to soy milk.
“I definitely think when people see the word milk or burger, in their minds, they relate it to an actual burger,” he said. “That’s just marketing 101.”
Whittaker said while he doesn’t think it would impact him personally, he thinks labelling can sometimes be confusing to people who are not as familiar with the product. He raises his animals purely on grass for food and said some people get confused by the difference between grass-fed and grass-finished.
“Grass fed … is a really loose definition,” he said. Some people may assume grass-fed means the animals is raised entirely on grass and not kept confined to the barn, but Whittaker said farmers can raise an animal in a confined space and on grain and still call their animals grass-fed as long as they switch the animal to grass before it is butchered.
“That’s really misleading,” he said. “Grass-finished animals are on the pasture their whole life, eating grass and not getting corn silage or grain.”
However, Whittaker said even those definitions are not universal.
“I don’t think there are (legal) definitions,” he said. “There are some things that are not clear with how they are working on definitions. For (our business), we are better off not worrying so much about how (the government) will classify it but do our own marketing and find people who are interested in the way we are doing things. We are way better off to do that than any other route.”
Whittaker said he really hasn’t seen any impact on his business from plant-based meat substitutes. He said the only impact the substitutes might have had is made people more interested in grass-finished beef and less content with confined beef.
“People are concerned about where their meat is coming from, looking for healthier alternatives,” he said.
However, he thinks it will take a while for the meat substitute market to make an impact, if it does at all.
Currently, the beef industry is going strong. According to Nichole Hockenberry, director of marketing and communications for the PA Beef Council, beef demand is up.
“Consumers have always had a variety of different protein options to choose from. Research shows that consumers consider beef one of the best sources of protein. … Right now beef demand is up, which tells us consumers are clearly craving beef and its great taste, which is hard to replicate,” she said, adding, “When you look at the market for beef and beef substitutes, beef substitutes account for less than 1 percent of sales.”
Until the markets change, farmers in Huntingdon don’t face much threat from plant-based meat substitutes.