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The “new meat” debate is getting old

By in Opinions

There are growing concerns regarding a new, seemingly unstoppable competitor to the livelihood of cattle ranchers across the prairies. My family raises cattle, so I understand the anxieties being felt.

Beyond, Impossible, and other plant-based burgers seem to have come out of nowhere. They are garnering attention in the media and are being picked up and promoted by huge fast-food names like A&W and Burger King.

While I totally understand the apprehension, I can’t help but get annoyed when people repost articles or photos listing the ingredients of the plant-based burgers and claiming they’re “unhealthy.” 

Even if plant-based burgers are claiming “healthier alternatives” to beef, they are on the same junk food list as cheeseburgers in the end. They’re meant to be consumed in moderation and are usually marketed as such. 

Of course, if someone says that plant-based burgers are healthier than beef, you can easily argue the contrary by looking at the number of ingredients and the processing required to produce them. The truth is that if you are consuming beef burgers at a healthy, moderate rate and you simply replace them with plant-based ones, it shouldn’t negatively impact your health.

The idea that things are worse for you when they are processed or “lab-grown” is known as an appeal to nature fallacy and is a fairly illogical way of thinking. That being said, the argument that “beef burgers are just beef and therefore inherently healthy” is also invalid.

Hormones and antibiotics are often used in beef farming to keep up production with the high demand. This increased use of hormones in cattle has been linked to early puberty in girls. Also, diets high in red meat tend to have negative impacts on health. A recent study found a link between red meat consumption and an increase in heart disease, cancer and death. 

Plant-based burgers may in fact be healthier — for the planet, that is. Greenhouse gas emissions are produced from livestock and the land use, deforestation and fresh water consumption needed for raising animals have a significant impact on the planet. 

In fact, cattle farming is the number one cause of deforestation. Plant-based burgers, on the other hand, require 46 per cent less energy to be produced at the same rate as beef. There is also less impact on water and land use, and produces 90 per cent fewer GHGEs in the process. 

Personally, arguments on animal welfare aren’t the most compelling reason for decreasing my meat consumption, and I know many feel the same. I believe the environmental impact — not the health one — is the appeal of plant-based burgers, at least for the general consumer market. 

Beef producers should be aiming to develop more sustainable practices for beef consumption to win over those who still want to eat beef but also want to support the environment. For example, it has been proven that cows can be selectively bred to produce less methane which could decrease GHGEs. 

As it is possible to improve the beef industry, it is also possible to do so for plant-based alternatives. As demand increases, more research can be put into developing healthier, more sustainable and more readily available alternatives to meat in many forms. 

The popularity of the few products available to the public is indicative that there is a market for more diverse options. Resisting the development and improvement of such products seems futile and naive. 

Attempting to curtail this industry also affects the conversation on climate change which cannot be properly addressed without addressing the impact of the meat industry. Reducing meat consumption is vital for improving environmental conditions. 

However, meat doesn’t need to be eliminated if consumed at a sustainable rate. If beef producers truly want to compete with an ever-increasing demand for plant-based alternatives, they should refocus their efforts and stop wasting their time attacking an industry that is not deterred by their propaganda.

Cami Kaytor

Graphic: Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

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