Alternative Beef Threatens an Already Struggling Cattle Industry

by Stetson Bryson 

For the nearly 730,000 cattle producers across the US, the cattle industry right now is no endeavor for the faint of heart.  

According to a publication released by Oklahoma State University and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the beef cattle industry is estimated to lose $13.6 billion in revenue from COVID-19.  

In the beginning of the pandemic meat packing facilities were unprepared for a health crisis of this magnitude. As workers became ill from the virus, facilities began shutting down—forcing producers to halt shipments on market-ready beef. With plants shut down, retail beef prices soared. Yet, producers received dismal live cattle prices due to market saturation caused during the shutdownscreating an even larger farm-to-retail price spread. 

As farmers and ranchers navigate the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, another threat approaches on the horizon: alternative meats. 

Aleph Farms has unveiled the first 3D-printed rib-eye steak. The Israeli company uses 3D bioprinting technology with live animal cells, creating the first animal-based alternative meat. Aleph CEO Didier Toubia believes their meat’s success will be due to their products increased transparency compared to traditional agriculture, no antibiotic use, and zero pathogens.  

Although animal cell alternative meat is relatively new, plant-based meats” are continuing their growth. Fresh off a newly inked multi-year deal with McDonalds and Yum Brands—the owner of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell—Beyond Meat is expanding its mainstream American dining market. These deals give Beyond Meat the opportunity to reach nearly a quarter of the global fast-food market—increasing its global distribution and marketing. 

With meat substitute sectors projected to grow to $23.2 billion by 2024, alternative meats create another enormous threat to cattle producers across the nation. Faux meats have the potential to wreak the same havoc nondairy milk alternatives have had on the dairy industry.  

Since 2015, dairy milk sales have fallen 11 percent, while nondairy milk has grown by about 50 percent, to $3 billion. As companies begin investing more money in alternative meat options, producers could see their market share shrink. Ultimately, creating an even tighter bottom line. 

Consumer preference for unconventional meat products has increased in recent years. Largely due to concerns surrounding misconceptions in animal welfare, the environmentand health.  

Farmers and ranchers get up every day—even in extreme weather conditions—to ensure their livestock are protected and cared for. High stress situations can create terrible economic consequences for producers such as calf abortion and inferior quality meat. They would not risk their livelihoods by mistreating the animals that provide for them. 

Cattlemen have actively been cutting carbon production, working to improve their environmental footprintCattle production accounts for only 2 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 28 percent by transportation, 27 percent by electricity, and 22 percent from other industry.  

Through greater genetics and better management practices, ranchers have been able to produce the same amount of beef—nearly 26 billion pounds—with 28 percent fewer cattle. On pasture-based operations—which are not suitable for other agriculture production—cattlemen cultivate healthy soil, improving carbon storage.  

Scientist have also been able to cut methane production by using a product called MonensinMonensin increases gram-negative bacteria in a cow’s gut, altering the volatile fatty-acid profile to increase the overall diet digestibilityreducing methane production.  

Cattle producers have been committed to being a part of environmental solutions to climate change, rather than a problem.   

Beef is also an extremely healthy meat option and one of the best sources for protein and nutrientsJust 3 oz. of beef can provide 25g of proteinaccounting for 50 percent of your daily nutrients value. Beef is also a great source for key nutrients such as Zinc, Selenium, Iron, and Vitamin B12. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found incorporating 7-18 oz. of lean red meat in your diet per week can reduce heart disease risk factors, such as total and LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure. 

Lastly, there are absolutely no antibiotics in any meat products found in any grocery store. Antibiotics are only used as an absolute last resort to treat sick livestock, and all antibiotics are out of the animals system by the time of processing. 

It is uncertain the affect alternate meat sources will have on the cattle industry. It is certain that cattle producers and ranchers are some of the most resilient, hardest working individuals in the country. As the cattle industry is slowly rebounding from the blow of Covid-19, I urge everyone to support this nations farmers and ranchers by eating beef!

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