March 2016 is proving a red letter month for animals. The start of the month witnessed the inception of a new trade group, the Plant Based Foods Association, a new David intent on challenging the mighty Goliath of Big Meat in the USA.
You have to applaud the PBFA’s sheer nerve because that particular Goliath is a towering colossus which contributes in just one year $894 billion to the US economy, and provides 5.9 million jobs. And that inevitably “translates into political influence. In 2014, the industry spent approximately $10.8 million in contributions to political campaigns, and another $6.9 million directly on lobbying the federal government”, says Deena Shanker, author of
So we can see that our new David is really up against it. His sling shots are going to have to be pretty damn good!
The PBFA is the brainchild of Michele Simon a vocal critic of the US food industry and its lobbyists. As a newborn the PBFA currently represents just 23 companies such as Tofurky, Daiya Foods, New Wave Foods and Miyoko’s Kitchen, but it plans to include many more, not just those whose entire range is built on plant proteins.
The appointment of Elizabeth Kucinich, previously director of policy at the Centre for Food Safety and wife of a former congressman and presidential candidate, to represent the PBFA in Washington, is a real coup. Ms Kucinich knows her way around Capitol Hill. And boy, is she going to need to, because outmanoeuvring her powerful opponent will not be easy. This from Steve Johnson gives a pretty clear indication of the size and reach of this Goliath
Most of the companies involved in the meat business, including the big meatpackers, are represented by one or more of the powerful meat trade and lobbying organizations: the American Meat Institute, the National Meat Association, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. They’re a powerful group and they know they have a strong voice in decision-making in Washington. “I think the ultimate objective of a lobbying organization such as the American Meat Institute is to be sure that when the legislators enact bills, or when a regulator finalizes a regulation, our expertise, our experience, our insight, is part of their decision-making process,” says Patrick Boyle, CEO of the American Meat Institute. The Politics of Meat
For decades this powerful lobby has been successful in ensuring that any suggestion the American public should in the interests of their health reduce their consumption of meat and dairy, is thoroughly watered down by the time recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture reach publication.
This is far from being an exclusively American problem. On the global stage, “Lobbying by powerful big food companies is blocking reforms which would improve human health and the environment” – so warned Dr Samuel Jutzi, a director of the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation. Adding that after the publication of a major report, Livestock’s Long Shadow (which calculated that the livestock industry was responsible for nearly one-third of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions) “you wouldn’t believe how much we were attacked”. The Big Food lobby groups were able to delay decisions, sometimes for years, water down proposed improvements and prevent the real issues from being properly addressed. At the same conference Professor Tim Lang had this to say, “What we have had in the last 25 years is an economic paradigm where it’s assumed that markets rule and that global powers are the future, and the global powers par excellence are not countries but companies.” The Guardian
If this all sounds like trying to slay a monstrous dragon with a cocktail stick, let’s not be disheartened. This is still great news! The mere fact of this new lobby group’s launch is a cause for celebration. Until now there was no David to measure up against Goliath.
And what the Plant Based Foods Association has in its favour is the plant food sector’s exponential growth. According to Take Part , plant-based protein could account for fully a third of overall protein sales in the US by 2054, and the global market could hit $5 billion by 2020. And more plant protein means more animal lives saved. Some of the biggest global players in Big Food, Unilever for one, are jumping on the plant food bandwagon. Who knows where this will go? Watch this space – it’s going to be interesting.
I referred to the power of the meat lobby in The Animal Conspiracy – Equation for Revolution