Meatless but Genetically Modified
What began as “Meatless Monday” is now a trend that is gaining popularity on other days
of the week. Meatless “meat” and fishless “fish” are making their debuts on many popular fast
food chain menus. The most recent is the ImpossibleTM Whopper® at Burger King. The
ImpossibleTM Whopper® is just like the classic Whopper®, but made with an ImpossibleTM patty
made from plants. What's in the patty? Mostly soy protein, potato protein, coconut oil, sunflower
oil, and heme. Why are meatless menu options getting so popular?
In the early 2000’s, a push for more sustainable, eco-friendly agriculture came from
political figures and activist groups alike. Politicians began making sustainability the headliner
of many campaigns and activist groups followed suit, eventually creating the radically outspoken
opinions that consumers have of conventional agriculture. Despite leaps and bounds of
improvement, the American farmer still cannot catch a break. Catching heat in the media for
agricultural “malpractice” is no farmers idea of fun, thus, millions of dollars have been invested
in farms and ranches across the country to revamp production practices that meet strict animal
welfare, sustainability and environmental regulations. Knowing this, we are still left unsure as to
how meatless food options are increasingly popular. Although personal preference likely plays a
large role, animal welfare and animal rights groups seem to be stealing the spotlight – but do
they know what they are fighting for?
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal welfare-driven
organizations promote and encourage meatless Monday in an effort to build their brands on the
3R strategy: Reduce the amount of animal products consumers eat, Replace meat with plant-
based products, and Refine the way consumers buy animal products. Such organizations claim to
have lots of divergent views in their membership and leadership. Leaders claim that some
members think consuming plant-based products is the best way to honor creation while others
think shopping at the local farmers market and supporting local farmers is the best way to do
that. Seems inclusive and calm, right?
If you were to do a quick Google search using key phrases like “farm animal welfare”,
“meaning of Meatless Monday”, or “impact of meatless Monday on farmers”, the results vary an
incredible amount. Animal rights and animal welfare organizations have taken advantage of what
was meant to encourage sustainable agriculture campaigns and turned it into a farm animal
welfare/animal rights frenzy. Let me preface this next statement by differentiating between
animal welfare and animal rights. Animal welfare, according to the American Veterinary
Medical Association is defined as, “An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by
scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express natural
behavior, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress.” Every
farmer and rancher is morally bound to this definition and should strive to raise their livestock
according to this definition. Of course, there is more to animal welfare than just this definition,
but at its’ core, this description is solid.
Animal rights, on the other hand, is defined by the organization People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals (PETA), as, “Animal rights means that animals deserve certain kinds of
consideration—consideration of what is in their best interests, regardless of whether they are
“cute,” useful to humans, or an endangered species and regardless of whether any human cares
about them at all. It means recognizing that animals are not ours to use—for food, clothing,
entertainment, or experimentation.” Essentially, animal rights puts humans and animals on the
same playing field and encourages people to coexist with animals as if they are also human.
Now, at first glance that’s not what that definition says, but if you know anything about PETA,
you know their intentions are incredibly different than simply promoting animal rights.
As an agriculturist and advocate for this industry, I, like the vast majority of farmers and
ranchers, am 110 percent pro-animal welfare. Organizations who have animal welfare/rights at
the foundation of their goals began as peacefully proactive groups of people with one common
interest – bringing awareness to the fact that people can be cruel to animals. There are some bad
apples out there and odds are, we all know a few. However, since their quaint beginnings, many
of these groups have become morally negligent when distributing their messages.
For example, the ImpossibleTM Whopper® and many other meatless foods are being
supported and advertised by PETA, HSUS and other animal welfare/rights groups. Given their
stance on animal agriculture, this makes sense. A quick search of Impossible Foods, the
company who makes the ImpossibleTM Whopper® patty, left me more confused. A study
conducted at Texas A&M University in 2014 concluded that in general, consumers who choose
plant-based foods would also choose GMO-Free, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, and Antibiotic Free
food options as well. Interestingly, Impossible Foods, Inc. is leaving out a critical piece of
information in their advertising of their monumental meatless marvel.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are 100 percent safe and there are only a
handful (10 to be exact) in existence, but they catch a lot of heat in the media, arguably more
than animal welfare. People are generally confused and misinformed about GMOs.
Misinformation from “activist” organizations can spiral out of control and ultimately leave
consumers with distrust of the food industry. Rather than being transparent, advertising of these
meatless foods, specifically the ImpossibleTM Whopper®, conveniently leaves out the fact that
the contents of the product are in fact, genetically modified. Naturally, plant-based proteins are
likely to contain some form of GMO since the base ingredients are typically 4 of the 10 GMOs
that exist. Why isn’t this being transparently advertised? Rather than saying, “It’s meatless, but
it’s also genetically modified”, companies are using misinformation as a marketing strategy –
and that isn’t right.
There is a disconnect between food manufacturers and food labeling laws. The American
farmer continues to take the blame for marketing malfunctions. The farmer raises and grows the
livestock and crops and follows government regulations to a T, but has no say in how the product
is processed and sold to the public. Since this is true, why are farmers to blame for the way
products are marketed and advertised? They shouldn’t be! Food choices often boil down to
personal preference, and that’s okay. Thankfully, we live in a country where we are free to make
those choices. However, when it comes to food marketing and advertising, companies who seek
to be different should hold themselves accountable and promote their products appropriately.
At the end of the day, misinformed consumers seek answers from the source – the farmer.
The farmer can tell you all about how he cares for the livestock and prays for rain so the crops
will grow, he can tell you about the seed variety and the exact moment that the sprout broke
through the soil, but he should not be solely held responsible for how his crop is processed or
advertised. This disconnect is only increasing and as consumers, the biggest compliment we can
pay the American farmer is to educate ourselves and educate others. To learn more about
meatless food options from Impossible Foods, Inc., visit, https://impossiblefoods.com/.