Meatless Meat?

Consumer Reports On So-Called “Meatless” Meat

In its October 2019 issue, Consumer Reports published, as usual, an independent,  science-based analysis of the “meatless meat” coming into the market place today. Meatless meat is composed of highly processed vegetable materials and is put forward as a humanly healthier and environmentally better alternative to industrial meat. As environmentalists who got interested in raising grass fed beef as a humanly healthier and environmentally better food, we at St. Gall Farm were curious to read CR’s analysis which we reproduce in part below.

We can deal with the claim that meatless meat a healthier food quickly: noting that meatless hamburger has much more sodium than factory hamburger, Consumer Reports states that, “while the starting materials may be plants, the main ingredients are all highly processed concentrates, oils, and flavors… If you want the health benefits of plants eat them as whole foods with their nutrients and fiber naturally present.”

We want chiefly, however, to publicize Consumer Reports’ analysis of the claim that meatless meat is better for the environment. On examination we see that this claim has traction only against the industrial beef model that has come to dominate contemporary American agriculture: “replacing meat raised in feedlots with plant-based foods is a win for the environment… That’s in part because cows release methane, a greenhouse gas. And industrial beef production creates runoff that contaminates water. Feedlot farming also tends to sicken cows, contributing to the overuse of antibiotics, which breed superbugs and undermine the effectiveness of those medications.”

What is the industrial beef model? Farmers breed cows to produce calves and sell them between the ages of six and 12 months (that’s called a “cow-calf” operation). The calves are then transported to feedlots where they live in close quarters for up to another year and are fed a rich diet of grain (corn, soybean, wheat) rather than their natural food, which is grass. As their stomachs did not evolve to eat grain, digestion produces the excess methane gas environmentalists rightly worry about. Living in close quarters, moreover, the waste from the feedlot does not naturally fertilize a pasture but accumulates into an environmental hazard, while the corresponding danger of infection requires the preventative use of antibiotics as mentioned above. Not mentioned in the Consumer Reports article is the questionable use of growth hormones to accelerate growth.

Thus Consumer Reports concludes, “Switching to grass-fed animals can also be beneficial.” That’s how we do it at St. Gall Farm. We keep a small, closed herd which minimizes the need for medications. We keep our herd in precise balance with the carrying capacity of our pastureland through rotational grazing. We raise the beef naturally from birth to the day of slaughter, which for our Dexters takes about 26 months until they naturally “marble.” Other than a little treat of sweet feed (grain saturated with molasses) to lure them from paddock to padlock, their diet is entirely grass. Grass fed beef is leaner, has more flavor, and avoids the environmental damage caused by the industrial model.

So-called meatless meat is no real solution to the urgent problem of feeding the world. When you bear in mind that almost 2/3rds of the world’s agricultural land is pasture, you realize how much land would be taken out of food production if beef were banned and how much more stress would be placed on the 1/3rd of the world’s agricultural land which is suitable for grain production. The monocultures of alternating soybean and corn rely heavily on glysophate herbicide – dangerous dependence that would be exponentially increased if beef were banned and we had to rely on these plant products to create our meatless meat.

Thus Consumer Reports concludes by quoting an expert from “the EAT Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on environmental sustainability,” that “most of our foods – about 60% – come from soy, rice, maize, and wheat, and we are just perpetuating the system that is based on monocultures [with meatless meat]. I’d rather see a low density grazing system with grass fed beef then to have that land converted to soybeans.” Another expert from Friends of the Earth states that “the hype around meat alternatives distracts from better solutions to climate problems… Rather than creating new products that require more energy, more money, and more processed chemicals, why not invest in a truly sustainable system?” That’s what we’re trying to do here at St. Gall Farm! So order some of our beef and he eat it with pleasure and a better conscience!