The Hartman report Food & Technology 2019: From Plant-based to Lab-grown finds “widespread consumer distrust in the meat and dairy industry” Bizarrely, with plantbased products “the majority of consumers see plant-based alternatives as no different or better than conventional meat and dairy when it comes to being all natural, minimally processed, healthy and good for the environment and animals. This is true regardless of the plant-based category.” This finding obviously needs some further deep analysis!
Why the mistrust?
The report says mistrust of the meat and dairy industry has been fuelled partly by documentaries highlighting the realities of industrial animal agriculture. It’s also a product of the erosion of the “romantic” view of animal agriculture and the move towards a more realistic view of the industry. This is in no way a moralistic statement, but one of fact. Killing animals for food can be considered necessary but it creates cognitive dissonance in many consumers. This is where a person’s values and the reality of their actions do not match, creating conflict (dissonance). This is the case with many consumers, demonstrated by the fact that 35% of US consumers in a recent survey wanted all slaughterhouses closed! Now before you scoff, this survey was indeed performed by the animal rights group the Sentience Institute but VERIFIED by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics. In fact, they got worse (for the animal industry) results than the Sentience Institute! Yes, you can say that 65 % still want meat, but what industry can lose 35% of its sales without massive disruption?
We also need to realise that the background to the rise of animal alternative products today is quite different to that of the past. “Plant-based purchasing today is happening in a cultural atmosphere that is very different from the moralistic, sustainability-driven vegetarianism of the 1970s. Less than half of plant-based purchasers today think of themselves as people who are limiting meat, and 1 in 5 actually describes themselves as carnivores.”
The availability of information on what we eat, how it’s grown and its nutritional effect, together with virtually instant access to global trends, also has an impact. “As more consumers than ever question the health, ethical, and environmental implications of animal products, innovative plant-based meat and dairy alternatives are taking the packaged food world by storm.”
So what do we do?
Some would treat Farmers as the new blacksmiths and say it’s simply a case of “too bad, so sad”. However, there’s understandably a great deal of empathy for farmers and this view’s probably unacceptable to a majority of the non-farm population. But what do we do if it’s necessary to transition farmers to a new reality? Massive subsidies, farm buyouts? I certainly don’t have the answer!
The bright side is that there’s as many opportunities for farmers as there are threats. Two major upsides are;
- All of these new products will need plant proteins as raw materials.
- We’re talking 5, 10 or 20 years to see massive impacts.
This means that, if the industry is forward looking enough, there’s more than adequate time to plan any transition. However, as we all know 5 or even 10 years can go by in what appears to be the blink of an eye!
What will the Future of Food look like?
There are many possible futures and the only certainty is that the Future of Food will be significantly different to what it is today!