Column: Meat or plant-based protein and the confusion for consumers

Marketing by plant-based protein companies blurs the line on what really is considered meat.

1189830+FBM Mike Dierkswebby.jpg
Mike Dierks

Where is the beef?

This was a famous saying in the 1980’s advertising campaign for the Wendy’s franchise fast food company. Today you can ask the same question in a different way. Is that meat or a plant-based protein burger?

I want to give everyone some facts and opinions on plant-based proteins and meat-based proteins to clear up some misdirected statements and ideas.

According to Tyron Wickersham, who wrote an article for the Fort Worth Star recently, there are activists who are well-intentioned but have created a misinformed movement of environmental activists, celebrities, politicians and athletes. These groups are spreading non-factual ideas and half truths about the beef industry and meat consumption.

Wickersham goes on to support his article by showing scientific facts that beef is a healthy protein source of food to consume. He also goes on to support his opinion with other facts that prove removing beef from our diets would not improve overall human health or improve the world ecosystems and climate.


Another article written by Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Frank Mitloehner states that the cattle industry has become so efficient that it produces the same processed pounds today with one-third fewer animals than in the 1970’s.

The biggest deception society has today, according to Mitloehner, is the methane gas myth. He writes that one cannot compare a cow to a car and think the atmosphere can be saved without a cow. In the U.S., 80% of all greenhouse gases stem from the use of fossil fuels in transportation, power production/use and the cement industry. U.S. livestock, meanwhile, emits approximately 4% of all greenhouse gases, according to the EPA. In terms of types of greenhouse gases, the methane that livestock produces is considered a flow gas, meaning more is produced, but it has a much shorter half-life than fossil fuels.

If you prefer to inform yourself on a video or podcast, TED talks has a good presentation from Allan Savory titled, “How to fight desertification and reverse climate control.” He basically is trying to convince a scientific world there is proof we have all been trying to tackle climate control the wrong way. This includes strategies that would argue for beef, sheep and goat production to increase while we watch climate adversities begin to recede.

Now for some of the plant based protein facts and opinions. Most plant based products have landed on grocery store shelves and restaurant plates by now. These newer plant based companies’ promotional tactics are clear, they want your business.

Let’s review one example — the Beyond Meats company website states its mission is to shift from animal- to plant-based meat, positively impacting four growing global issues. They are proclaiming a healthier lifestyle, a cleaner climate, using less global resources and improving animal welfare.

When your company is a plant-based company, that goal is completely understandable and correct. These new start-up plant-based companies with their growing investor groups are attempting to change the way we eat and live, while making a profit. This, ladies and gentlemen, is free America and how entrepreneur business works in our society.

As you can see by now, there is a difference in opinion between meat producers and plant-based companies. The beef, pork and chicken industries request a fairer playing field. They have suggested lawmakers introduce a new bill that requires products be labeled with better clarity. They claim that sausage is identified to the general public as a meat product and that plant-based products should have a different identity name. They would like a defined product name for both meat- and plant-based products posted on all packages.

Plant based products have been using the terms patties/burgers, nuggets and sausage, confusing some consumers. They have also asked for research from the USDA on the ingredients used to make plant-based products. They want proof that there is a healthy benefit to consuming a plant protein source before it is advertised and promoted as better than meat (currently there are studies that support both industries). These seem like reasonable requests, to know the facts about what we are eating and what is harming our environment.


I have two questions for you today.

First off, do you have a preference for what you buy? Second, do you really know what you are eating?

I prefer a beef hamburger while others prefer only plant-based proteins and some may not care at all. Time will show us how both industries adapt and change to survive. That is what is great about America, we get to support whomever we want with our purchases.

Purchasing either product discussed in this article is still supporting a farmer who raised an animal or a field of vegetables. Next time you are talking with a farmer, thank them for their efforts. The U.S. still has the most abundant and safe food supply in the world.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
What To Read Next
Commercial farmers in Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota start using drones for spraying, seeding.
Even if it's not a lucrative venture, the hobby of raising rabbits continues at this farm near Sebeka, Minnesota.
The program provides funding to help processors add value to Minnesota agricultural products by investing in production capacity, market diversification and market access for value-added products.
The application deadline is March 6.