By Gwynne Dyer
The French government has just published a decree banning the use of terms like ‘steak’, ‘spare ribs’ and ‘ham’ on plant-based foods. Sausages and ‘poultry nuggets’ will escape the ban so long as the plant protein content is less than 6%.
It’s not that the French don’t know the difference between meat from dead cattle and ‘plant-based steak’, a label that has been used in French supermarkets for at least 40 years.
It’s about handicapping the fake meat industry: if you can’t say ‘plant-based steak’, how do the customers know what it’s meant to be a replacement for?
Well, those customers are vegans, or at least people trying to cut down on the amount of meat in their diets. They deserve to be confused because they are betraying and undermining the meat industry. Let them buy their ‘plant-based X’, and choke on it.
Governments are playing the same game all over the West. The journal ‘One Earth’ analysed US and European Union agricultural policies 2014-2020 and found that only one-thousandth of the public money spent on helping the meat and dairy industry went to plant-based alternatives.
But don’t people in the meat industry understand that meat production will have to shrink drastically as climate change accelerates? That cattle specifically are responsible for almost one-tenth of all greenhouse-gas emissions, more than all other food production combined?
Of course they do. The average cattle farmer is in denial, but the bosses of ‘Big Meat’ – the transnationals like Tyson Foods and Cargill (headquartered in the United States), JBS and BRF (Brazil), Vion Food Group (Netherlands) and the WH Group (China) – know exactly what the future holds.
They know that half of the world’s agricultural land is devoted just to growing food for cattle. Yes, half. And they know that those cattle burp out enormous quantities of methane, the fastest-acting greenhouse gas.
They know that the pressure to return that half of the farmland to nature (‘rewild it’) will grow, because it’s the last hope for preserving a reasonable range of biodiversity on the planet. When the biodiversity activists get together with the people who are trying to cut emissions, beef and dairy production will go into retreat – but the question is when?
Because Big Meat also knows that Big Oil went on making huge profits for fifty years after it knew the writing was on the wall. Only now, finally, is it being forced into a managed retreat.
Way back in 1977, ExxonMobil’s scientists accurately predicted a global temperature rise of 0.2°C per decade if fossil fuel use continued on its present trajectory. They understood what that meant for the climate. They nevertheless waged a campaign of denial and distraction that prevented any serious action for half a century.
Big Meat’s senior execs doubtless think that way too, so stand by for a long campaign of slander against plant-based protein and its far more formidable rival, ‘food from the air’ or ‘farmfree’ food. That is based on protein produced by ‘precision fermentation’, which requires no land beyond the hardstand that the bioreactor sits on.
But Big Meat will lose a lot quicker, because farmfree food is almost infinitely flexible.
This nascent industry may concentrate on animal feed at first to build up volume production and bring the price down, but it’s high-quality tasteless protein that can be given any texture and taste cooks can think of. Here comes the Revolution. Again.