Good news about food keeps coming from America thick and fast. And what’s happening there soon travels across the pond and takes root in Europe too. So just how is plant-based food David faring against Big Meat Goliath?
My post David v Goliath celebrated the arrival on the US scene of the Plant Based Foods Association, a lobbying organisation for innovative plant food companies such as Daiya, Tofurky and Impossible Foods.
But, we would have to be blind not to see that the PBFA is up against a colossus. American Big Meat is the Goliath of our worst nightmares.
A few facts to give you an idea of its size, power, and reach – monstrous, in every sense of the word.
- Goliath is a many-headed beast. So we have the American Meat Institute, the National Meat Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the National Pork Board – to name some of the biggest industry representatives.
- They represent an industry worth in total approx. $894 billion p.a.
- Their job is to get Americans eating more meat. Meat sales are supply-driven, not consumer-driven.Their work is to create demand to soak up the what the industry produces.
- They do this by lobbying the government, managing PR crises (swine flu, E.coli etc) and staging marketing campaigns – having a billion dollar piggy bank to do it with.
- In 2015 the beef industry alone spent $39 million on promotion and research, “consumer public relations,” “nutrition-influencer relations,” and countering “misinformation from anti-beef groups.” That last bit would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic for the animals.
- There is specific marketing targeted at children – can you believe they’ve even devised a “beef education” curriculum for high school? No doubt the inspiration for the Simpsons’ ‘educational’ ‘Meat Council’ movie shown in Lisa’s class – remember the ‘Bovine University’?
- Have Goliath’s strategies paid off? Big time. Americans eat 60% more meat than Europeans. Every dollar meat producers pays in subs to their meat boards returns $11 to the industry. Without the beef meat board’s activities, for example, estimates are that the industry would be selling 11.3% less beef.
- And let’s not forget Goliath’s other grotesque heads, the food retail corporations – McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Chicken and so on. McDonald’s US advertising spend is about $1.42 billion – yes billion – annually.
- In 2014 Big Meat spent $10.8 million in contributions to political campaigns, and another $6.9 million directly on lobbying the federal government. One study confirmed that changes in contributions do change voting behavior and that you can basically “‘buy’ legislators’ votes” without breaking the law.
- According to Steve Johnson in The Politics of Meat, the meat industry has succeeded in weakening or preventing many new meat-safety initiatives in recent years.
- The United States Department of Agriculture has an ambiguous relationship with Big Meat. While USDA is tasked with regulating the meat industry, it also has a role in promoting it. This tension plays out every time the US government wants to give out dietary advice—and the results generally wind up favoring the industry. Leena Shanker
- The American taxpayer is still being made to turn out their pockets in tax for meat industry subsidies, “despite the fact that meat consumption has come down by a third since the 1970s. The US government hands out $38.4 billion a year to ensure that people have an easy time entering the industry, and that production continues to grow. Nice work, lobbyists. So the government is taking tax dollars from its citizens to pay off the very industry that is destroying the planet. If you’re trying to figure out how that makes sense, we’ll save you the time – it doesn’t”. One Green Planet
Scary, isn’t it?
Particularly when you stop to think about the individual animals’ lives which are at stake here. We are not just dealing with percentages and unthinkable amounts of cash. Behind all these facts and figures lies the worst figure of all – 9.2 billion animals slaughtered for ‘food’ last year in the USA alone – and that does not include fish and other sea creatures. Can you even imagine the sea of blood from 9.2 billion animals? Each single one that makes up that 9.2 billion a living being who feels pain and fears death, whose life matters to him or her – and to us who respect their right not to die to satisfy human appetites.
So next for the pre-match weigh-in, our champion David (in the form of lobby group PBFA) who’s squaring up to Big Meat? Has he got a hope in hell against this colossus? Just now, David is super-small, barely even a Tom Thumb next to Big Meat’s Goliath. At the last reckoning the PBFA boasted a staff of just two women, a pair of formidable and experienced women it is true, but still just two. They are advertising for a part-time Administrative Assistant, if anyone’s interested. When the post is filled staff numbers will rise to two and a half.
PBFA has as of now 38 members and 5 affiliates. Supposing PFBA’s income from fees and donations were as much as – best guesstimate – $100,000 p.a., that’s pretty small beer next to the $17.5 million+ Big Meat spent in one year on political lobbying alone.
Luckily for the animals and the planet, tiny little PBFA is not alone in the battle – history is on its side. One Green Planet’s infographic shows where Big Meat is, in the #FutureofFood – nowhere, or so we hope.
Here are a few things that are happening:
- People are cutting back on meat, and turning vegetarian and vegan. In 2014 the number of vegetarians in the USA was 16 million, half of them vegan, double the number in 2009. The numbers keep growing exponentially there and elsewhere in the world. (News came through just this week of a 360% increase compared with 2006 in the number of UK vegans) And interest is still increasing – check out Google Trends.
- Veganism is becoming cool and trendy.
- A 2015 study indicated 36% of Americans are open to plant-based eating and 55% plan to eat more vegan foods.
- And so in spite of Big Meat’s best efforts and with all those billions of dollars at its disposal, meat consumption in the USA has been declining year on year since 2007. 400 million animals fewer were slaughtered in 2014 than in 2007.
- Mintel identified meat and dairy alternatives as one of the 12 key trends set to impact the global food and drink market in 2016.
- We’re seeing rapid advances in new food technology. The current meat substitute or alternative protein market is estimated to grow to $5.2 billion by 2020 and according to some estimates, plant-based meats could make up one-third of the entire market by 2050. And we are told those are conservative projections.
- Silicon Valley’s venture capital elite including Google Ventures are funnelling billions into backing these plant-based food technology startups.
- Conversely, wealthy institutions are being pressured by shareholders to turn away from unethical investments. Here in the UK for instance, well-known investors including Aviva, Allianz and Alliance Trust have gone public with their concerns about the risks of investing in factory farming operations, calling it a reputational and, potentially, financial risk. There are already investment funds which exclude factory farming companies. If this is being mirrored in the US, it could be a huge game-changer.
- People are waking up to the environmental costs of meat – greenhouse gases, pollution, destruction of habitat, wasteful use of land and water, not to mention the suffering of farmed animals. Individual states like California are proposing regulation and mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture. And here in Europe, Denmark pushed things in the right direction by recently announcing its intention to tax meat to fight climate change. USA take note!
- Cultured meat from stem cells has appeared on the scene with a fanfare of publicity. What do we think of it? More on that coming soon.
- ‘Small is beautiful’ is coming back. There’s a backlash against mega-scale farms that are no better than factories. More on that coming soon.
- There is a new initiative called the Menus of Change. To influence consumers’ food choices more directly and promote healthier and more sustainable food choices in restaurants, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) has partnered up with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to spearhead this new movement. They’ve produced two evidence-based documents detailing the environmental and health impact of meat consumption, and urging chefs to “reimagine the traditional roles for animal and plant protein on American menus.”
- And finally, good news for PBFA – it is no longer the lone lobbyist pitted against Big Meat. The USA has the newly-formed National Agriculture Advisory Board, thanks to the HSUS. More on that coming soon too.
Will we live to see David defeating Goliath? Will Big Meat soon be seen by history as a monstrous aberration from human civilisation? What do you think?
MFA blog – 2015 study on plant-based eating
One Green Planet – plant-based protein food technology
The Independent – Denmark’s meat tax
Animal League Defense Fund – California’s proposed regulation of emissions from animal agriculture
Bon Appétit – Impossible Food’s fake meat burger
Marta Zaraska in Salon – Big Meat’s billion dollar ad & lobbying campaigns
14 July 2016 Wayne Pacelle’s blog, A Humane Nation No More Gravy Train for Big Meat? on the Commodity Checkoff Program Improvement Act of 2016 introduced in the US Senate yesterday as S. 3201 seeking to curb the notorious checkoff programs which favour meat megacorps at the expense of small family farms.