“Meat production is driving the extinction crisis by promoting the slaughter of wolves, bears, beavers and lions. It is polluting communities and waterways with toxic manure and poisoning the land with deadly pesticides used for growing feed. It is driving our climate emergency by bulldozing forests and belching out dangerous methane,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s Executive Director. “Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are doing us all an important service by pushing meat alternatives into mainstream culture at a level we have not seen before. By speeding up the transition we desperately need to make toward plant-based eating, they are helping to save people, wildlife and our endangered planet.”
A statement by the Center:
The Center for Biological Diversity supports Beyond and Impossible burgers and other food innovations urgently needed to accelerate the shift toward plant-forward diets, which will reduce the environmental devastation caused by meat and dairy production.
Meat production is a key driver of both the global extinction and climate emergencies. One million wild plant and animal species are threatened with extinction due to habitat destruction, pesticides, pollution, killing and invasive species. If greenhouse gas emissions are not halved in the next 10 years, humans and wildlife alike will suffer catastrophic climate change. Meat production also contributes to food insecurity, poor public health, air and water pollution, dangerous worker conditions, inequality, and inhumane treatment of animals. Transformative social and structural change is needed to avert these crises, including revolutionizing our food systems. We need to rapidly and dramatically reduce meat and dairy consumption and production, and shift toward sustainable, plant-forward diets.
An ideal food system would provide balanced nutrition through plant-forward, organic, regionally appropriate, minimally processed foods. But to reject important advances that are already driving change because they do not simultaneously meet all these ideals is unrealistic and ultimately self-defeating. The urgency of the extinction and climate emergencies demands the support of policies, technologies and markets that reduce meat consumption, and hence meat production, as quickly as possible.
The rapid mainstreaming of plant-based foods due to the widespread adoption of Beyond and Impossible burgers has shown a potential to disrupt meat-centered diets and industries to a degree of which we previously could only dream. They point toward a near future in which plant-based food is accessible, familiar, and sought out in grocery stores, cafeterias, fast food chains and restaurants. The Center supports and embraces these innovations because they serve justice and promote the protection of land, water, climate, and wildlife.
Meat and dairy production, including grazing lands and agricultural lands producing cattle feed, take up an astounding 30% of the Earth’s surface and 80% of all agricultural land in the United States. Animals raised for feedlot and grass-fed beef production imperil wolves, grizzly bears, beavers, prairie dogs, bees, butterflies, rare plants and hundreds of endangered species in the United States. Annual U.S. beef production generates 337 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, 489 billion pounds of manure, requires 682 million acres of land, and uses 21.2 trillion gallons of water.
In comparison with beef, Beyond and Impossible Burgers produce 89% to 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, reduce land use by 93% to 96% and water use by 87% to 99%,and generate no manure pollution. In addition, plant-based meats do not require slaughter, which means slaughterhouse waste like blood and offal does not pollute rivers, workers do not face high rates of injury and exploitation in horrific working conditions, and farmed animals do not suffer for plant-based meats to be produced.
The current generation of rapidly advancing plant-based foods is necessarily part of an inherited complex and flawed industrial-food system. Due to the expense and limited availability of organic plant protein, most are not organic and some use genetically engineered (GE) ingredients to meet growing demand or to avoid using GE ingredients, use non-GE, but rainforest-depleting Brazilian soy.
The Center has fought, and continues to litigate, against the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of pesticide products for spraying on soybeans and other commodity crops genetically engineered to withstand what would normally be a fatal dose of pesticides such as glyphosate, 2,4-D and dicamba. Their work to reduce the harms caused by pesticides, genetically engineered crops and monocultures is advanced by plant-based meats, which use dramatically fewer resources. It takes between 40-58 pounds of feed, often comprised of monoculture crops like GE corn and soy, to create just one pound of beef, while plant-based meat like the Impossible Burger uses no more than 8 ounces of soy per pound. Thus even when plant-based meats use GE crops, they still reduce the overall demand for GE soy and other monoculture feed crops.
While other plant-based burgers have long been available, they have not dramatically altered the dietary choices of meat eaters, who make up the majority of the U.S. population. The mainstreaming of Beyond and Impossible burgers is changing this: About 90% of customers ordering Impossible Whoppers at Burger King are meat eaters, and 86% of people who eat plant-based meat alternatives are not vegan or vegetarian. Every plant-based burger they consume instead of beef reduces the demand for meat.
More than 1 in 3 Americans eats fast food each day. To change our food system, we have to meet people where they are, including at the drive-thru. The existence of widely available meat alternatives that appeal to, and are being embraced by meat eaters is an important step for a living and growing planet. The Center applauds this step as urgently needed progress toward reducing meat consumption and production.
It is estimated that by 2040, 60% of meat will be plant-based or from other alternatives to animal agriculture. This rapid increase will provide opportunities and incentives for plant-based meat companies to further transform food systems by increasing the use of healthy protein sources, phasing out genetically engineered crops, eliminating the worst pesticides from supply chains, embracing sustainable agriculture, and promoting pollinator-friendly agricultural practices. Plant-based meat companies should also set targets to mitigate their environmental impacts by maximizing use of distributed solar energy and minimizing packaging waste and pollution.