The impact a world without meat could have on farmer livelihoods 

in August 11th, 2021

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A meatless future may be closer than we think — but are we prepared for it? As more consumers and producers turn to meat alternatives, some are estimating that plant-based meat could represent 10% of the market within a few years. Impossible Foods hopes to end animal farming altogether by 2035. While the benefits are clear for animal welfare, the environment, and more, the cost to farmers is still being determined. In fact, a new report focuses on three vulnerable groups and their ability to adapt.

  • First, there’s the farmers who grow soy, roughly 70% of which is used for animal feed. If soy-based companies like Impossible Foods can scale operations and achieve enough market share, soy growers will largely remain unscathed and supply similar companies instead of livestock farms.
  • Then there’s the farmers who grow pork or poultry for major meat companies. Their infrastructure is entirely optimized for animal farming — even if that comes with losses— making it difficult to pivot to another type of farming that would produce plant ingredients such as mung beans, oats, peas, or other legumes.
  • Finally, there are the workers at meatpacking companies. A decent portion of alternative protein production is automated work. This means that jobs at plant-based facilities are safer, but will require less human labor and therefore fail to absorb the displaced labor forces.

One major piece of legislation directly addresses the farmers at risk, first introduced in 2019, again in 2020, and then again last month. The Farm System Reform Act calls for a moratorium on new large factory farm (aka CAFOs) construction, phasing them out all together by 2040, and creating an annual $10 billion fund to help factory farm operators transition to pasture-based livestock, grow specialty crops, or pay off debt. While unlikely to pass anytime soon, it kickstarts conversations towards policy needed to equip stakeholders for the future.

And now that future might include seafood, too. Some startups have begun using dehydrated tomatoes as a substitute for tuna. Others concerned with sustainability are creating faux tuna with soy, wheat, and pea protein. Meanwhile, a French foodmaker has introduced a plant-based salmon made from algae and pea protein. While still early compared to plant-based meat, these fish alternatives excite consumers trying to minimize their impact on oceans already suffering from overfishing. 

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