Why I’m 'Freaking Out' Over Fake Meat

Are you “freaking out” over fake meat? The editorial board at The Los Angeles Times thinks so.

On Tuesday The Times published an editorial championing the rise of plant-based burger alternatives such as those from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. The Times suggests the plant-based burgers have evolved “so far from the card-board tasting alternatives of yore that they have triggered a backlash from the beef industry.”

Well, yeah, I guess cowboys are a little concerned about the rise of fake meats, especially when news organizations such as The Los Angeles Times publish blatantly biased and factually erroneous material. Much of The Times’ editorial is devoted to an attempt to minimize the fact plant-based fake foods are highly processed.

For instance, The Times notes that plant-based burgers contain some ingredients like titanium dioxide and methylcellulose that may sound scary, but, well, eating a plant-based burger is not as healthy as “a pile of raw vegetables.” As reassurance, The Times says, “the truth is that additives such as those listed …are regularly used in all sorts of packaged foods.”

Yes, they are, and I’m sure we’ve all eaten our share of such ingredients. But The Times was just getting warmed up.

“And if methylcellulose, a food thickener, sounds unappetizing, it’s really nothing compared with the E. coli or salmonella poisoning you can get from regular meat. The truth is that beef and other industrial meats are often packaged with things a lot more dangerous to human health than food additives.”

That’s a jab below the belt, and without any context, written only as a scare tactic in an effort to damage an industry upon which many Americans depend for a living.

Here's the context needed: E. coli and salmonella can also be found on plant foods such as lettuce and other vegetables. Indeed, plant-based burgers – or other foods for that matter – are not immune to food safety issues. Since Jan. 1, for instance, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration have already issued eight food recalls for products such as granola, ice cream, cashews, soup, string cheese, brownies and eggs. None for meat or poultry.

But, The Times says, the “bigger point” of their endorsement for fake meat is you won’t suffer “the bitter aftertaste of guilt,” and you’ll help stop climate change.

Yes, you should feel guilty for being at the top of the food chain, The Times' editors believe. “Humans also know full well that many animals live short, brutal lives in appalling conditions for the sole purpose of becoming … foods for humans to enjoy at dinner.”

No. No, we don’t know that at all. Believing such nonsense ignores the most basic of animal husbandry principles – that comfortable, well-fed and cared for animals are the most profitable.

But the most appalling statement in The Times' editorial was that “cows and livestock is responsible for about 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions.” The Times did not cite a source for the number, but 14 years ago in a publication called “Livestock’s Long Shadow” published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, a similar number was attributed to livestock production. The number is exaggerated, and the authors of the report later admitted their calculations were wrong.

In a recent life cycle assessment (LCA) published by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) with support from the Beef Checkoff, researchers found that U.S. beef cattle production accounted for 3.3% of all U.S. GHG emissions. By comparison, transportation and electricity generation together made up 56% of the total in 2016 and agriculture in general 9%.

Separate research at the University of California/Davis found that livestock account for 4.2% of all GHG emissions. Professor of air quality Frank Mitloehner says that’s a far cry from the 18% to 51% range that some advocates often cite. “Comparing the 4.2% GHG contribution from livestock to the 27% from the transportation sector, or 31% from the energy sector in the U.S. brings all contributions to GHG into perspective,” Mitloehner said.

In fact, Mitloehner says if every American went vegan we would reduce our nation’s GHG emissions by only 2.6%. “That’s minimal compared to the 80% of GHG emissions caused by fossil fuel use in the U.S.”

Conclusion? The editors of The Los Angeles Times, sitting in a smog-shrouded city due to burning fossil fuels, want Americans to believe our climate problem is cattle ranching. Such flawed logic shows The Times' editors to be utterly clueless about ranching and climate.

And that is why I’m “freaking out.”

Related stories:

EAT-Lancet's Long Shadow

Debunking 'Livestock's Long Shadow'

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