February 01, 2019

That's Impossible, White Castle:
Why cattle ranching is in big trouble
And in more trouble with an Impossible Whopper

Veggie beef plus lab meat combo could be a home run

Consolidation of beef slaughterhouses into four or five major players, led by Brazil's JBS — as a corruption investigation in Brazil continues — has put pressure on the beef industry, to be sure. But, lower per-head prices at feedlots (JBS also a major player, through subsidiaries) and packinghouses is probably not the biggest issue.

Not quite Camelot to eat Impossible Burger at White Castle.
Younger Americans' declining taste for beef is probably bigger. (And not necessarily just younger Americans.)

More and more Americans are going vegetarian or even full vegan for ethical reasons. Others are cutting back on meat in general and red meat in particular for other ethical reasons — like climate change, for me. Hormones, antibiotics, and the confined prisons of modern CAFO animals all add to the ethical issues.

Plus, beef generally runs ahead of pork on price at the checkout, even if that doesn't trickle down to ranchers. And either chicken or turkey will often undercut both.

But, the big tell?

White Castle selling veggie burgers.

But why?

First, that goes against the image of White Castle's gut-bomb sliders. Having lived for years near a metro St. Louis Castle, I can tell you my personal record is 19.

Second, the price. Dunno about you, but if I'm in a Castle, I'm looking for cheap shit, not $1.99. (To be fair, it is twice the "meat" of a slider, at twice the price. THAT then said, a regular gut bomb for 99 cents or more is also overpriced when I can hit the dollar menu at McDonald's, Burger King, etc. and get nominally better stuff.)

Anyway, it's being done. Impossible has upgraded to Burger 2.0. Read more about the partnership here.

(Update, April 8: 2019 — The Impossible Slider is now being joined by the Impossible Whopper.)

And, that's the big point, and we haven't even gotten to the possibility that test-tube meat will be publicly sold in just a year or two. (Latest predictions by folks like Mosa and Memphis Meats say they'll be ready by 2021 on price and scalability of production.) A majority of Americans still say they won't eat it, but that majority has dropped from 80 percent to 66 percent over the past five years. Add in the worries about climate change, and non-vegetarians wanting to be ethical, and the worries about E coli, etc.? If the price and scalability are there, it will happen — even if texture issues make burgers and sausages, not steaks and chops, the primary focus.

That said, the question of whether or not large-scale clean meat production actually will be more climate friendly than steak or chops on the hoof is still more of an open question than many realize. One study says it could be worse.

But, think if you could mix lab meat and your veggie burger 50-50 for burgers and sausage (or even as high at 70-30 in favor of the veggie product) with good taste and texture, and with the veggie portion, definitely be more climate friendly. You might just have a winner. There already may be a winner; mushroom is already being used as a structure for bacon flavor; just add real test-tube bacon instead.

The lab shit hitting the fan is especially true with beef; per this piece, that higher cost I mentioned, plus the ethics that on cow farts and ag intensity, beef is at least 50 percent worse than pork and at least twice as bad, or more, than poultry, means it's in the crosshairs first. The beef industry, despite the growth of JBS, is also less vertically integrated than pork and far less than poultry, as Drovers Magazine notes, which is surely part of why Tyson and Cargill are among lab meat investors. The bullets are more likely to be fired in Europe first, though. Memphis Meats is behind Mosa on production. Just, an up-and-comer, is surely also behind. And, USDA, with a lack of regulations on the book (plus issues of whether it or FDA takes the lead) is also a potential hindrance. The EU already has initial rules on the books.

So, per a story I saw in an ag magazine last year about a North Dakota farmer saying he loves his ranch but hates delivering calves in a North Dakota January? Or, ranchers having to face vultures killing live calves? Or, for High Plains ranchers, the price of feedlot corn getting iffy due to the Ogallala Aquifer getting more depleted, with dryland sorghum — sugarcane aphids and all — being considered as an alternative?

I estimate you've got about six years left on that love-hate relationship with modern ranching.

(Update, Feb. 27: That prediction is underscored by Israel's high-tech sector also entering the lab meat world. People who know, know that Israel's got almost as robust a high-tech ag sector as the Netherlands. And, the Orthodox rabbinate has already said it doesn't need kosher slaughter and you can even eat a cheeseburger and not be treif, as long as the cheese's production itself crosses muster.)

And, not just you.

Drovers notes that speciality beef with a high price, like Kobe, will face a whole new world — perhaps for the better — if test-tube meat is a success. And, "inputs" will still be needed somewhere. Livestock feed dealers and the like may not be too affected.

Meanwhile, the battle is heating up; especially on lab meat, the nomenclature issue has strange bedfellows.

Folks like the National Cattleman's Beef Association wanting it called "artificial"? Well, so is your own ranching. Ain't nothing "natural" about inseminating a heifer with a glass rod.

1 comment:

Smokey_the cat said...

Like I've told you before I like your stuff a lot- you always learn something new.