Wallowa County, Washington ranchers pick a beef with plant-based burgersDecember 28, 2019
Real beef? Impossible Burgers? Beyond Meat? Old-fashioned veggie burgers? They’re all being considered these days as consumers add concerns for health, the environment and climate change to their interest in flavor.
But northeast Oregon beef producers are wary of the newest-generation of plant-based burger offerings, including Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger. They are beef look-alikes that seemingly masquerade as meat. Ranchers want consumers to know what they’re getting: It’s not beef, it’s not local and it’s not as environmentally friendly or as healthy as many consumers think.
A case of mistaken identity — that consumers will think they are buying meat when they choose a less healthy, highly processed product out of the grocery store meat case — is at the top of local rancher’s concerns. The newer generation of plant-based “meats” — most notably a brand called Beyond Meat — have muscled their way into the supermarket meat case and onto the hamburger shelves. These products are clearly labeled “plant-based patties.” But they are engineered to look like beef. They sort of taste like beef. They are a different animal than the antiquated low-fat veggie-burgers hibernating in supermarket freezers.
Long-time Wallowa County rancher Mack Birkmaier doesn’t like having plant-based meat substitutes marketed next to the ground beef and steaks in supermarket meat counters. “It’s kind of like cheating,” he said.
Rancher and County Commissioner Todd Nash, agreed.
“I would like people to know that they’re buying a plant-based product rather than a beef product and have it labeled appropriately so that the consumer can make that choice,” he said.
The unease is a national one. Curtis W. Martin, a board member of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association who ranches in North Powder, echoes Birkmaier’s and Nash’s concerns.
“By no means are you going to steal our reputation, our labeling and our quality by trying to confuse … the consumer by using ‘meat’ or ‘beef’ on the labeling or advertising.” he said. The USCA wants the U.S. government to ban the words “meat” or “beef” from being used to promote nonbeef products.
Touted as a healthy food that will save the planet, the new generation of plant-based burgers are increasingly popular. Beyond Meat is now sold in about 35,000 grocery stores nationwide. In Wallowa County it’s available in Safeway, Dollar Stretcher and the Market Place in Joseph. Impossible Burgers, sold only in restaurants, are available for lunch or dinner at Heavenly’s. The popularity of these “plant-based meats” is growing rapidly across the nation, even though they are more expensive than locally…