(NBC) – With Burger King becoming the latest major retailer to begin offering a plant-based alternative burger in its stores nationwide, the beef industry has started to take notice.
And while meat-substitutes may not pose much of a threat at this point, ranchers across the U.S. have a “beef” with the plant-based products.
Brett Crosby’s family has been raising cattle for five generations across Montana and Wyoming in some of the most beautiful country in America. “All I ever wanted was to be a cowboy,” Crosby opined.
But cattle ranchers are facing a small rival with a lot of momentum, “fake meat” made from plants.
Companies like Beyond Meat are not much of a threat, yet. Revenues are relatively tiny $240 million this year compared to a national beef herd worth an estimated $67 billion.
But ranchers are taking notice and they have a few “beefs.”
California rancher and member of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association Kevin Kester said, “We are not against science, we are not against people wanting to make new products, we just want to make sure we’re on a level even playing field where everybody goes by the same rules.”
The meat industry is regulated stringently by the USDA, while plant-based products are regulated by the FDA.
But if fake meat burgers cannot be eaten raw and have to be refrigerated just like meat. Kester thinks they should be regulated like meat. “We want to have the same inspection processes and have the consumer and public confidence that those products are safe,” Kester explained.
There are claims that plant based “meat” uses a fraction of the land to produce the same amount of protein. Crosby says all land is not created equal. “90 percent of the land that is grazed by cattle has no other productive use.”
Then there’s the beef over whether to call fake meat “meat.” 13 states, including Montana, have passed laws or resolutions saying you can’t call something meat unless it comes off an animal.
But perhaps the greatest long-term concern could be meat made in a lab, actual meat, not plant-based substitutes.
Tried or not, the buzz right now is all about fake meat and the beef industry does not want to be left in the dust.
And beef isn’t the only meat to see a challenge from plant-based foods. In August, a KFC restaurant in Atlanta tested out a “Beyond Meat” fried chicken option on its menu which sold out in a matter of hours.