The Meat Industry Should Be Worried, Food Policy Expert Says

CC BY 2.0. pulaw

People are worried about animal welfare, the environment, their health, and cost. The industry needs to be pay attention or risk becoming obsolete.

The meat industry is in denial, a Canadian food policy expert has said. As people worldwide grow increasingly concerned about the implications of meat production, the industry is more likely to see a drop in meat consumption than an increase, based on the things that people cite as their biggest worries: animal welfare, the environment, health, and price.

Sylvain Charlebois, a food policy professor at Dalhousie University, told The Star Vancouver that the meat industry needs to take these four main issues into consideration and see how they can evolve over time; otherwise it could become obsolete.

Supporting Charlebois' point are the 2.3 million vegetarians and 850,000 vegans in Canada, half of whom are under 35. Their dietary choices will affect their children and grandchildren and spread the plant-based lifestyle even further. The new Canadian dietary guidelines, set to launch in November 2018, are predicted to support less meat-eating and "a high proportion of plant-based foods." Apparently, Switzerland has just done the same, releasing "a food guide early this month which encouraged consumers to reduce meat-eating by 70 per cent."

The rise in protein alternatives has made meat-free eating more accessible to people. Most grocery stores feature an impressive array of tofu, tempeh, mock sandwich meats, veggie burgers, meatballs, and ground soy. Cooking sites abound with 'flexitarian'-type recipes that feature meat-and-lentil blends or beef-and-bean combinations, always with the end goal of reducing meat consumption.

The meat industry doesn't agree entirely with Charlebois' assessment. Kevin Boon, general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen's Association, told The Star that animal farmers have been "extremely influenced" by the public and science over the past decade:

“I wouldn’t say we are in denial. We are working as hard as we can to address those issues coming forward.”

But it must be worried, because several big meat producers have invested in plant-based alternatives in recent years. Tyson acquired a 5 percent stake in Beyond Meat, maker of a 'bloody' veggie burger, while Cargill bought shares in Memphis Meats, maker of lab-grown 'clean' meats.

As Sami wrote last summer,

"It's clear to me that Big Food is getting very interested indeed in the world of plant-based and 'clean' meats. Assuming that society eventually gets serious about tackling the monumental ecological footprint of large-scale animal agriculture, investors may be wise to place some bets on alternative sources of protein."

I doubt the entire Canadian population is about to become vegetarian anytime soon, but there is definitely a movement underfoot. It is now common to question the source of animal products, to seek out ethical or plant-based alternatives, and to enjoy several meat-free meals per week. Meat is no longer the given that it once was, and for that reason alone, the industry is right to be concerned.