Tyson and Nestlé have accomplished the seemingly impossible: They have united environmental and animal activists with cattlemen.
Tyson Foods, by far the largest meat company in the United States, recently announced plans for its own line of plant-based meat. This followed news from Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, who will soon launch a “bleeding” plant-based burger, joining Silicon Valley darlings Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
Ranchers’ opposition to these better meats is understandable. But as a vegan of 30 years, what has surprised me most is the rejection from my friends in the animal and environmental advocacy communities.
I run a nonprofit that accelerates the plant-based meat industry and I welcome these developments. I am often grilled by my peers for supporting companies like Nestlé and Tyson.
At a conference on food sustainability in San Francisco recently, I was talking about my excitement at the move of Tyson Foods into the plant-based market. Almost immediately, a representative of an environmental group really laid into me, pointing out the wild profits that Tyson will be making from their move into the plant-based territory.
The discourse is harsher online: “Nestle has profited off of stolen water, done irreparable damage with its global anti-breastfeeding campaign, and continues to unnecessarily test on animals...PASS.”
Do I think Tyson and Nestle have joined the ranks of the bleeding hearts? Hardly. As they will be the first to admit, they are simply doing what they do best: serving their customers, the eating public.
And facts show the public is hungry for slaughter-free products. Last year, US retail sales of plant-based meat climbed 23%, while overall grocer sales grew just two percent. Restaurant chains like Carl’s Jr., TGI Fridays, and even White Castle now offer plant-based burgers loved by their customers.
It is not surprising that more and more companies are getting in on the biggest trend in food: creating slaughter-free meat for meat eaters.
As you can imagine, none of this is good news for ranchers, who are part of a tradition of animal farming that goes back 10,000 years. But environmental and vegan activists’ attacks on slaughter-free products only delay progress.
What is the alternative? Not leveraging Nestle’s and Tyson’s economies of scale, global supply chains, marketing expertise, and billions-strong consumer bases for plant-based meat? That seems exceedingly unwise if we want plant-based meat to succeed.
A growing number of us recognize that raising and slaughtering animals causes a variety of harms, from climate change and food insecurity to antibiotic resistance and the mistreatment of animals. Setting up a powerful corporation like Tyson as an enemy, when they are willing to be an ally, simply makes no sense to me.
Companies that know about producing and marketing meat are critical partners in bringing slaughter-free meat to the meat-eating masses. With their involvement, billions more people could have access to plant-based products that hit the trifecta of taste, price, and convenience.
The stakes are too high not to try.
The writer is the Executive Director of the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that harnesses the power of food innovation and markets to accelerate progress toward a better food system.