Meatless food and the future of Virginia agriculture

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By DJ Rippert

Chow time. Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry. No other private industry is even close. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) claims that agriculture has an economic impact of $70 billion annually and provides more than 334,000 jobs in the Commonwealth. Virginia’s top agricultural products and their cash receipts are:

  1. Broilers (chicken) – $935M
  2. Cattle and calves – $413M
  3. Greenhouse / nursery – $306M
  4. Dairy products, milk – $306
  5. Turkeys – $236M

Of Virginia’s five top agricultural products four are under possible attack from a revolution in food technology – meatless meat. McKinsey & Company just issued the latest version of The Next Normal: Perspectives on the future of industries journal. The title? The future of food: Meatless. Some of the commentary in that journal ought to have Virginians wondering about the future of the state’s largest private industry.

Got Milk? An NBC article entitled, “Best advice to US dairy farmers?  Sell out as fast as you can” chronicles the sad state of America’s dairy farms. Dairy farms in the U.S. went from 650,000 in 1970 to 40,219 in 2017.  The farms that remain are getting bigger. As the article states, “In 1987, half of American dairy farms had 80 or fewer cows; by 2012, that figure had risen to 900 cows.” Dairy farmers blame milk surpluses, debt, unstable export markets and ineffectual government subsidies. While these points are probably accurate, there is a macro trend at play as well. American per capita milk consumption has dropped from 78.3 liters per person per year in 2011 to 65.2 liters per person per year in 2017. Meanwhile, plant based “milks” have been exploding. Nielsen reports that almond “milk” sales alone grew by 250% between 2011 and 2016. Soy, coconut and rice “milks” also contributed to the challenges facing cow milk makers. Virginia’s 450 dairy farms are struggling. A recent article says,

According to USDA statistics, the cost of production per hundredweight of milk in Virginia is $25.11—so the state’s dairy farmers are losing on average $5.91 per hundredweight sold.

Smaller dairies are feeling the effects even more. Dairies with between 100 and 199 cows—the size of most of Virginia’s dairy farms, Banks said—lose an average of $7.18 per hundredweight of milk.

As a result, Virginia’s dairies are dropping like the flies on their cattle.”

As far as I know we can’t economically grow almonds, coconuts or rice in Virginia. That leaves soy, I guess.

Where’s the beef? While the Dairypocolypse is fully underway there may be even worse news on the horizon for the beef industry. In the McKinsey & Co report Ron Salpeter – CEO of plant protein company Hinoman – predicts that eating meat will be seen as immoral by 2030. While he is paid to think such thoughts, the reality is that per-capita red meat consumption in the U.S. fell from just under 150 pounds a year in 1971 to 109.5 pounds a year in 2018. Yet the most devastating news may come from David Lee, the CFO of Silicon Valley based Impossible Foods. When asked why Impossible burgers cost more than beef burgers, Lee made a chilling statement, “Pricing for us is a strategic choice. We use a fraction of the resources the incumbent industry does to make its products, so with that comes the ability to choose. Could we have a much higher profitability and offer a lower price in the market? Absolutely. But to achieve that, we need scale—we need to actually have the size of the business that the incumbent industry has.” A fraction of the resources? How will Virginia’s beef industry fare if Impossible gets to a scale where their beef replacement costs half as much as genuine hamburger? Then Lee gets even more chilling ….

“Anything the meat eater can imagine will eventually be launched by this company. We do 100 prototypes a week. We’re working on technology that creates prototypes for plant-based pork. I’ve had a chicken noodle soup and a fish risotto that were both entirely plant based.

We already have platforms under way to develop what we call a whole cut—a great piece of steak, a whole cut of chicken breast, a whole fish filet. We’ve been shy about offering specific time frames, but we’re hard at work on all of those.”

Chickening out. Per-capita chicken consumption in the U.S. has skyrocketed over the past few decades, more than doubling from 1971 to 2017. Good news for Virginia chicken farmers. But clouds are on the horizon  In Feb, 2019 Tysons Foods named its first-ever head of alternative protein – Justin Whitmore. Today Tysons Foods announced that its alternate protein-based line of foods, called Raised and Rooted, is in 7,000 stores. Tyson shares rose 7%.

Rounding ’em up. America’s food tastes have been shifting away from beef and dairy for years. Virginia’s farmers seem to have rolled with the punches just as they did when tobacco became the modern equivalent of a dirty four letter word. However, the changes of the past have been animal-to-animal substitutions. Beef to chicken, for example. Now the pointy heads in Silicon Valley (Impossible Foods) and Israel (Hinoman) are turning plants into meat. Meanwhile, younger Americans see traditional livestock production as somewhat unhealthful, bad for the environment and cruel to the animals being slaughtered. This could be the fulcrum of a fiasco for farmers in Virginia and elsewhere. Even if alternate protein takes a 10%, 20% or 30% bite out of animal protein the results will be devastating. Conversion of feedstock into animal protein varies from about a ratio of 7:1 for beef to 2:1 for chicken  That ratio is essentially 1:1 for alternate protein. If alternate protein continues to taste more and more like the meat it imitates and the prices continue to drop we may have a significant amount of overcapacity in our farms. Does our General Assembly have a plan for this disruption?

On the good news front, Virginia based Smithfield Foods announced its own plant based brand, called pure.

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32 responses to “Meatless food and the future of Virginia agriculture”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    The Global Warming Apocalypse is on hold if we stop eating meat and dairy, right?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Throw in air conditioning, driving and air travel and we’ll be making real progress.

    2. ugh don’t get me started.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Where does menhaden fit in this?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Who knows? Maybe the wizards in Silicon Valley can make cat food using meat (fish) substitutes out of plants and give the menhaden a break too. Plant based fish meal for aquaculture would help the bunker too. Of course, if Impossible can make tasty fish treats out of plants I guess there won’t be as much aquaculture anyway.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    really important issue…

    but here’s what you have to keep in mind:

    What’s Actually in an Impossible Burger?

    Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

    Can they get some of that stuff from farms?

    If we suddenly converted to all plant-based “meat” what would happen to “farming”?

    winners and losers?

    the price of soy beans would skyrocket?

    Some day – “meat eaters” will be considered cretins…or worse, no doubt.

    on the other hand…………

    1. Over 85% of soybeans are GMO. They are contaminated by glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup). This is banned in Europe and Monsanto has just been hit with a major court decision making it responsible for attributable health effects from its products. Glyphosate is a major endocrine disruptor, present in many of the processed foods in the supermarket. Just check how many of the processed foods have either, soy, corn, wheat, high-fructose corn syrup, etc. on the label. Most of which have been produced from GMO grains that are dependent on glyphosate.

      Soy also has an abundance of phytates which complicate digestion and tie-up important minerals, which can result in demineralization of your bones.

    2. djrippert Avatar

      It’s the inputs that matter. It takes 7 lbs of plants to make 1 lb of beef. It takes 2 pounds of plants to make 1 pound of chicken. It takes one pound of plant to make one pound of plant substitute meat. What happens to all the farm growing feed for livestock?

      There will certainly still be farming – jut maybe not so much. I also wonder about the scale of farming for alternate protein. It seems easier to ship alternate protein than cattle on the hoof. More industrial scale? More centralization?

      An unopened carton of almond milk can stay at room temperature for 3-4 weeks. Try that with cow’s milk!

  4. I’ve eaten an Impossible Burger, and I’ve eaten a Beyond Burger. While they weren’t horrible, they have a long way to go to match good ol’ beef burgers in taste and texture. I’m sure the technology will advance and the veggie-based products will improve, and I suppose the younger generation is more likely to get on board than old buggers like me whose taste buds are highly resistant to change. But I see the move to plant-based meat as an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary one.

    If I were a beef or chicken farmer, I’d be a lot more worried about in-vitro meat — test tube meat, whatever you want to call it — that grows real meat tissue in controlled factory settings.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Never underestimate the pointy heads in Silicon Valley. Ask somebody about wrist watches that function as phones in 1990 and you’d be accused of viewing too many Dick Tracy reruns. Now, not so much.

      Almond milk doesn’t taste like whole milk really. But you know what … it still tastes pretty good. And it’s a lot better for you. So, I drink it all the time.

      Tastes change. Chicken doesn’t taste like beef but Americans switched from beef to chicken in droves over the past 30 years.

  5. I am all for transitioning from our current industrial method of livestock production towards something that is healthy for the animals, people and the planet. But these new meat substitutes are highly processed industrial foods, that happen to be made from plants. It is a bit of an unfair comparison, but it reminds me of soylent green.

    It is impossible to have sustainable agriculture without integrating livestock into crop production. Otherwise, our methods of agriculture will continue to be dependent on outside inputs. This creates an improper energy balance (too much in for what comes out); unhealthy animals (the enormous use of antibiotics to keep animals on their feet long enough to reach the slaughterhouse); and the contamination of our soil, water, and air. Nothing about the way we feed ourselves makes sense except for the profits because of our distorted economics.

    The current industrial ag model treats livestock as factories with feet, instead of biological organisms.

    There is a profitable dairy outside of Harrisonburg that has a mostly grass-fed herd that does not homogenize the milk and uses the most gentle methods of pasteurization. Current methods of homogenization shatter the milk fats in a way that reduces their size so that they can cross cell membranes and by-pass the normal lipid transport systems. This can cause all sorts of health consequences.

    Few people know that industrial “whole” milk is just skim milk with a powdered milk product added back in to reach the appropriate butter-fat level.

    Our agricultural economics have created a system where our major food sources have a wholesale cost that is below the cost of production. This increases the profits of the handful of major food processors that dominate each industry (beef, dairy, pork, poultry, etc.). This has driven out small farmers, local processors, and main street businesses that supported farming communities.

    Subsidies that keep the large producers afloat, depend on crony capitalism. This has decreased the percentage of our family budgets that go towards food, while the percentage paid for health care has more than offset this savings.

    Raising cattle using mob-stocking methods (the way herds normally graze), eating foods they have naturally evolved to digest (eating grain makes them sick), sequesters carbon in the soil, builds topsoil and water retention. This avoids runoff and makes pastures more drought tolerant.

    Many of the problems of our current agriculture comes from our faulty system design, which has been corrupted by skewed economic incentives.

    Joel Salatin has estimated that if the beef cattle raised in Virginia were finished on grass rather than sent west to finish in feedlots, we would add $200 million per year to Virginia’s economy.

    Many have recommended that we eat a higher percentage of plants in our diet. But those recommendations are about eating real plants, not the latest industrial version of a plant-based, “meat-like” product.

    If we want to create a more vital, sustainable economy in Virginia we should base it on principles that will endure.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      I kind of agree. An Impossible burger is no better for you than a beef burger. Well, it may have a few less calories but nobody would confuse it with health food. The real issue is cost. The inputs are much cheaper for the Impossible burger. It takes 7 kg of feedstock to make one kg of beef. It takes a lot more water too. At scale these alternate protein foods have to be a lot cheaper than their animal protein counterparts. The quality is getting there. Almond milk doesn’t taste like cow’s milk but it still tastes good. If these alternate protein foods taste good and cost a lot less than their animal equivalent they’ll take a big bite out of traditional agriculture.

      1. The 7 kg of grain fed to to create 1 kg of beef cattle makes them sick. And the corn that makes up most of it does require a lot of water, fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides to raise. Just because the current method is flawed, doesn’t mean we should replace it with another product that has been produced purely for profits.

        But I am also aware that talking about good sense in the face of social media fads and massive advertising can be a losing battle.

        Many people survived the depression because they lived on small landholdings and could still feed themselves even though they did not have much cash. Imagine a primarily urban population totally dependent on food supplied by a few large producers. Talk about controlling the hearts and minds of the people. Folks will do a lot of crazy things to make sure they can eat.

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I agree wholeheartedly with you. The new “meatless” meat products are highly processed foods. Many researchers feel that processed foods are at the root of many of modern society’s health ills.

      If someone feels that eating meat is immoral or bad for the planet, then he/she should switch to a vegetarian diet, with real food (plants).

      1. djrippert Avatar

        Processed foods isn’t really the point. Yes, natural foods are better than processed foods for you. But grain fed beef loaded with antibiotics is something of a processed food anyway, no? And that bun used by Burger King on either burger? The secret sauce?

        “More than three-fourths of energy in purchases by US households came from moderately (15.9%) and highly processed (61.0%) foods and beverages in 2012 (939 kcal/d per capita). Trends between 2000 and 2012 were stable.”

        The issue of processed foods is a lot bigger than an Impossible burger.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m not yet convinced that our plant-based agriculture is GMOed.. and unfit for human consumption.

    And if it is- what is an alternative?

  7. “More than 93 percent of the corn and soy planted in the United States is genetically modified in some way. Most of that ends up as animal feed, ethanol, or corn syrup — and corn syrup gets into lots of foods. Cotton, sugar beets, and canola are also common genetically modified crops. Roughly 60 to 70 percent of processed foods in grocery stores contain at least some genetically modified ingredients.”

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Interestingly, one of my sons can no longer eat sesame. If he does he breaks out in a severe rash and he has trouble breathing. He has to be taken to an ER. He carries an epi-pen with him. For the first 17 years of his life this didn’t happen. What changed? The doctors believe that genetic modifications made to sesame may be the cause. Something changed.

  8. Eating uncontaminated real food is the alternative. It is not as accessible, and some say more expensive. But if you total the cost of industrial ag food, plus the added health care costs, and the unpaid environmental damage, raising food in a sustainable way is a bargain and it employs a lot of people with a living wage, as opposed to the industrial ag model.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m still a skeptic that GMO food is dangerous and unfit for humans.

    sorry – the main folks that I know that think that way are that way for a wide variety of foods from gluten to other things.

    I see GMO as a way to feed billions and save the ones that are starving.

    If GMO really is a threat – I’m not sure how much land we’d have to cultivate to feed everyone. We’d actually be plowing millions of acres more in this country and in places like Africa and Asia – I’m not sure what happens.

    I need to be more convinced that GMO is bad. It has to come from science not beliefs of people that it is “bad”.

    When I do a search for ” are GMO foods dangerous?”,
    I get scads of sites – few if any are scientific based.

  10. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    I jumped on the antibiotics overuse awhile back, maybe not the issue in China, but additives of all kinds are the food issue now with ‘corporate’ agriculture.

    Additive-laced processed foods have become more American than apple pie, according to The Cleveland Clinic, one of the absolutely most forward thinking medical establishment in the country. “Additives are not necessarily bad. Most foods require them to prevent spoilage and maintain their nutritional value,” says dietitian Kate Patton, and thousands of food additives have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But while FDA generally recognizes most additives used as ‘safe,’ there are growing concerns about the safety of many.

    Consuming small amounts of additives may be safe, but the health risks add up if you rely heavily on processed foods. A diet rich in processed foods is linked to chronic diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. So here is an abbreviated list, focused on meat and dairy, that is recognized by places like GW School of Public Health and UNC.

    1. Sodium nitrate: Added to processed meats to stop bacterial growth. When meat is heated at high temperatures or combined with stomach acid, sodium nitrite produces nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are linked to an increased risk of pancreatic and colorectal cancer in humans. (Worst Offender)
    2. Propylene glycol: Better known as antifreeze. Thickens dairy products and salad dressing. Deemed ‘generally’ safe by FDA.
    3. Butane: Put in chicken nuggets to keep them tasting fresh. A known carcinogen.
    4. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH): Geneticially-engineered version of natural growth hormone in cows. Boosts milk production in cows. Contains high levels of IGF-1, which is thought cause various types of cancer.
    5. Propyl gallate: Found in meats, popcorn, soup mixes and frozen dinners. Shown to cause cancer in rats. Banned in some countries. Deemed safe by FDA.
    6. Paraben: Used to stop mold and yeast forming in foods. Can disrupt hormones in the body, and could be linked to breast cancer.
    27. Saccharin: Carcinogen found to cause bladder cancer in rats. (Worst Offender)
    28. Bleached starch: Can be used in many dairy products. Thought to be related to asthma and skin irritations
    29. Red #40: Found in many foods to alter color. All modern food dyes are derived from petroleum. A carcinogen that is linked to cancer in some studies. Also can cause hyperactivity in children. Banned in some European countries. (Worst Offender)
    35. Yellow #6: A carcinogen used in sausage, beverages and baked goods. Thought to cause kidney tumors, according to some studies.
    36. Orange B: A food dye that is used in hot dog and sausage casings. High doses are bad for the liver and bile duct.

    Which farmers will lead the way?

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    There ARE a lot of “additives” in food these days, no question – and we do have some warning signs on some things but I think we need to stay on a science-based track and not get carried away with it.

    I see too many getting totally carried away with it – and it’s based very little on science but on suspicions.

    Do the science. If science says it’s bad – that’s good enough for me but when I look at all the non-science dialogue these days -on food – it sounds a lot like the folks who say science is wrong about Climate – both have suspicions that science is no longer to be trusted.

    So we’re going back to a time when people just decided among themselves what was good or bad.. and they just pass it around based a lot on purely anecdotal experiences.

    You take away the EPA, the FDA and some other science-based entities including the Universities and we’re back to a luddite world.

    1. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
      Jane Twitmyer

      Larry, yes, some are alarmists about the additives but that list is science based … and as you can see, whether the FDA and the EPA are doing their job can be questioned …
      • Sodium benzoate: Used as a preservative in salad dressing and carbonated beverages. A known carcinogen and may cause damage our DNA.
      • Brominated vegetable oil: Keeps flavor oils in soft drinks suspended. Bromate is a poison and can cause organ damage and birth defects. Not required to be listed on food labels.
      • Red #3: A carcinogen. that is added to cherry pie filling, ice cream and baked goods. May cause nerve damage and thyroid cancer.
      • Red #40: Found in many foods to alter color. All modern food dyes are derived from petroleum. A carcinogen that is linked to cancer in some studies. Also can cause hyperactivity in children. Banned in some European countries.
      • Saccharin: Carcinogen found to cause bladder cancer in rats

      According to USA Today story … 1 issue … “The FDA faces an enormous challenge policing a global pharmaceutical supply chain in which at least 80 percent of drug ingredients and 40 percent of finished drugs sold in the USA are made or handled at thousands of factories overseas. “

      There have been other challenges … Nestle’s bottled water sources in a national forest were challenged but OKed when Nestle hired a former FDA official.

      Science issues were found by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine. Nearly a “third of those approved from 2001 through 2010 had major safety issues years after the medications were made widely available to patients … Seventy-one of the 222 drugs approved in the first decade of the millennium were withdrawn, the majority of pivotal trials in drug approvals involved fewer than 1,000 patients and lasted six months or less. … It took a median of 4.2 years after the drugs were approved for these safety concerns to come to light, the study found, and issues were more common among psychiatric drugs, biologic drugs, drugs that were granted “accelerated approval.”

      Kaiser Health News says the problem is that FDA approval does not mean ‘safe’ and a Johns Hopkins physician believes the answer lies in the follow up to approval which is lacking. Sounds good to me but would mean better finances in the budget.

  12. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Late to this discussion, but there are always trade-offs, aren’t there? Always an up and down side….Tastes may change but it won’t be rapid. My daughter is a health fanatic, but considers this stuff Frankenmeat.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Yes – there ARE tradeoffs but in the end – do we really want any/all foods that have non-natural components in them to be “illegal”?

      I know a circle of folks and each one has their own idea of what should be “allowed” and what is “dangerous” and if you let each one of them dictate what will be allowed, we’re going to end up with a rube-goldberg environment AND a serious black market for folks that still want things that others think should not be allowed.

      I consider the govt agencies to be science-based – and – not perfect by any means AND yes, some industry influence… but at the end of the day – it’s the institution we must have and abide by or we have chaos.

      I think they do it “right”. Put advisories on the products that do disclose that the scientific community is still not in total agreement about some substance but for God’s sake don’t let every Tom, Dick and Harry dictate to others their own beliefs and their interpretation of “science”.

      Global warming is just one area that this is happens. Foods and Vaccines and Drugs are another.

      We’re mixed up on these issues and more and more do not trust the Govt institutions and want some other approach. I just have no idea what that other approach would be because no matter what the entity does, there’s always going to be others who do not agree and are convinced that “dangerous” stuff is not being banned.

  13. TooMuchRegulation Avatar

    23 comments of trendy food hype. Taxes, Regulations, Education… clearly boring topics.

  14. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Let me see. I can pick my gender but cannot eat as I choose without a scolding. I prefer fowl to beef but still eat the latter from time to time. A number of my suppers each week contain no meat out of choice. But I resent the hell out of someone telling me how I should eat for the planet, especially since no government officials are making any attempt to restrict building on the sea coasts and floodplains.

    Anyone read Animal Farm lately?

  15. djrippert Avatar

    Wow. This comment chain is interesting but only loosely connected to the original post.

    Key points:

    1. There have been vegetable substitute meats for a long time. They were generally terrible.
    2. Recently, a number of high tech style companies have been making much higher quality substitute meats from vegetable inputs.
    3. I hypothesize that:

    a) These substitute meats will continue to improve in quality
    b) The substitute meats will fall in cost to a point well below the cost of the meat they are imitating
    c) Societal pressures from presumed health benefits to carbon footprint reductions to animal cruelty issues will help drive demand for alternative protein products (already happening to dairy)

    4. While this substitution may happen gradually it will decrease the demand for Virginia livestock and dairy as well as crops grown as feedstock for livestock and dairy. This will be bad for Virginia farmers (and farmers everywhere).
    5. The relative healthiness of these substitute meats is irrelevant to my thesis since Americans already get 75% of their calories from processed foods. Obviously, eating processed foods is not a major concern to most Americans even if it is a concern to many commenters on this blog.
    6. Virginia could potentially get ahead of this issue if it acts to take a leadership role in the research, development, production and marketing of these substitute meat products. Once upon a time there was a cow with a glass stomach at Virginia Tech (or so I was told). Seems like they could be asked to work on this problem in return for the money they get from the state government.

    “One little boy was enthralled with the cow with the glass porthole in its side so visitors could see the stomach’s contents.”

  16. I’m admittedly very biased towards the dairy and beef industry since I work in them but I do think some of this is just a fad that gets a little blown out of proportion. Dairy milk still outsells all of the various alternative plant beverages by 11-1. The impressive percentage increases are easy to see when a new beverage takes off. It’s easier to have 250% increases when you started with zero sales. Twenty years ago is was soy milk and now its almond milk but there is always a fad or new product. There is no doubt people are drinking less milk but overall they are consuming far more dairy products. Both butter and cheese are at all time high consumption levels and greek yogurt went from non existent 20 years ago to a major player.

    I think these alternative beverages are here to stay but if people are interested in clean eating then conventional milk and meat are no brainers. If you look at the ingredient label on milk, butter or a good old steak you know exactly what is in your food. I agree that getting back to how food used to be is also important. The low fat craze of the 70’s and 80’s did incredible damage. People took out the fat in food and replaced it with sugar which backfired with obesity rates going through the roof. We are starting to see people going back towards full fat products because they both taste better and the science is starting to back them up. Last year whole milk and flavored milk were the only conventional milk sales that saw increases.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      You may be right. I have looked in vain over the years for both Space Food Snacks and Orange Flavored Tang. No luck for the last 25 years or so. Some foods are fads.

      I doubt these alternate protein foods will turn out to be a fad like Orange Flavored Tang. I also doubt they will completely replace meat or nearly do so. The challenge is at the margins. If I’m right that plant based proteins require much less vegetable input than raising the equivalent weight of meat based protein than any substitution will lower the demand for products produced by farms. Let’s say this substitution is 10% over the next decade and, for the substituted products, the demand for farm products is cut in half. That would mean that farm demand drops 5% over the next decade (net of population changes and import / export changes – a big exclusion, I know). We have 334,000 jobs in agriculture in Virginia. Losing 5% means losing 16,700 agriculture jobs.

      One of the regular commenters on this blog is Mr. Moret – Virginia’s head of economic development. His commentary has helped us all understand the process of economic development in Virginia better. Recently he was talking about efforts to create a few hundred jobs per region over 3 – 5 years. If even a small level of meat vs alternate protein substitution occurs it could affect more than a few hundred jobs per region. Meanwhile, the sector of agriculture that produces alternate protein should be growing. Virginia could be among the leaders in alternate protein. Isn’t this issue of enough potential importance to merit further study by state government employees who are paid with our tax dollars? To be clear, I doubt this study is anything Mr Moret’s organization would undertake but somebody should be looking into this. At some point Mr. Moret may be well advised to contact alternate protein companies about locating operations in Virginia.

      One reason I see more uptake of these alternate proteins is that I have five children and I have looked at the statistics on vegetarianism in the US. I know that at least one of my five kids would be a vegetarian if it were easier to do. That makes sense because younger people in America are more likely to be vegetarian. Same for nonwhite Americans. Same for self-identified liberals. What demographics are growing in America?


    2. djrippert Avatar

      “I think these alternative beverages are here to stay but if people are interested in clean eating then conventional milk and meat are no brainers.”

      95%+ of Americans couldn’t give you an even somewhat reasonable definition of “clean eating”. If that changes I’d agree that it would affect food consumption.

  17. LarrytheG Avatar

    I don’t have a problem with folks weird beliefs about food – until they want the govt to make rules based on their beliefs and it’s not really backed up by science.

    When you say that science says there MIGHT be a carcinogenic – it means exactly that and even if it IS – if it is a weak link – and people can use the product over their lifetime and not get cancer – that’s totally different than if you eat it once – you get cancer. There is not only no black/white , it’s a huge range between the endpoints…

    ALL of life is a risk. Everytime you get into a car -you can die and there is no way to remove that risk.

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