I saw a headline recently, “Fake meat will save us from climate change” (Herald opinion, June 27)
What? As the co-founder of a 100% grass-fed beef restaurant, I am in the business of burgers and food. And when it comes to the ingredient deck of foods that are being peddled by mass media, coupled with a claim to save us from climate change, I sit up a little straighter.
Enter the lab grown/fake meat fad.
This trending meat debate is much bigger and nuanced than the choice of meat or no meat. Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger are the epitome of industrialized food systems. The very systems and businesses that brought us GMOs, pesticides and fertilizer mono-crops (soy, wheat, corn) are behind this massive marketing push. It is a smoke screen that keeps us from looking at national and global changes that would truly move us away from climate change and to a sustainable world.
First, we currently produce enough food in the world to feed every single person on the planet. It doesn’t get where it needs to go because of waste, distribution issues, politics and economic striations. The U.S. wastes 40% of our food produced. Lab-grown meat is just as likely to be half eaten and tossed in the garbage by consumers as anything else. How about we start here?
Second, the article in question states that a single burger takes 660 gallons of water to produce. To be accurate, the number is closer to 110 gallons per burger, and that takes into consideration water to drink, irrigate, grow crops and process the beef. For comparison’s sake, humans use 700 gallons of water per person per week (not per household), according to the Environmental Protection Agency; 713 gallons go into the production of one cotton T-shirt. And a bushel of soybeans, a primary ingredient in the lab meat in question, takes 3,737 gallons of water to produce. Everything subsists on water. Industrial monocrop production is one of the worst culprits of water waste. Let’s focus on that!
Third, GMO soy is unsafe for the environment and the consumer. The Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger both test positive for glyphosate (11.3 ppb Impossible Burger and 1 ppb Beyond Burger), the primary ingredient in Roundup, which is used in conjunction with GMO soya crops. Only 0.1 ppb of glyphosate has been shown to destroy gut bacteria in humans, the center of our immune systems. And remember when GMOs were introduced in the 1970s with the promise of increased crop yields and solving famine? Sound familiar? Let’s look at removing this product from our food systems, not encourage it on a mass level!
And finally, let’s talk about agriculture. Today, this field, combined with forestry and other land use, is responsible for almost 25% of all human-created greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Climate Reality Project, Ecowatch. I’ve seen other sources stating it’s up to 50%. These are sobering percentages, and also a powerful opportunity.
Eating lab made meat that is sourced from damaged agricultural systems is not the answer. But regenerative agriculture is. Let’s move our heads, minds, money and mouths into supporting regenerative growing practices, whether raising plants, livestock or both! So what the heck am I talking about?
Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that enrich the soil, sequester carbon, conservatively manage water, avoid damaging fertilizers and create nutrient-dense plants and animals. It involves conservation tilling, diversity, rotation and cover crops, and, in many circles, the use of livestock as a tool to manage grasslands (i.e. pasture raised or grass-fed livestock).
A study was published by Quantis, a group that has regenerated millions of acres globally, focusing on one of their properly managed livestock grassland ecosystems in southern Georgia. It illustrated a farming operation model that had a net carbon sink, thus proving the regenerative model works. Let’s compare this to the GMO soy-based products that are still a net carbon emitter.
A global adoption of these practices is a movement worth paying attention to. Allan Savory, Gabe Brown and Joel Salatin are growers, thinkers and farmers in the world who are proving that we can heal the soil, the planet, our bodies – and we don’t have to do it through eating fake food.
Let’s look to nature and the earth for solutions – regenerative agriculture is a win-win for farmers, consumers, plants, animals, the planet and for our future.
Jessie Kileen is the CEO and co-founder of Grassburger, a restaurant group in the Southwestern U.S. dedicated to 100% grass-fed beef and cleaner, wholesome, traceable foods. She lives in Durango.An earlier version of this column misidentified Quantis.