Whether it is called fake meat or clean meat, products containing alternative sources of protein have been appearing in supermarkets and restaurants around the country, and are competing with traditionally raised animal agriculture products. Farmers and ranchers at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention held in mid-January in New Orleans engaged with experts on what alternative sources of protein are, who backs them and how to get the message out about the products they produce.

Plant-based “meats” (Impossible Foods, Inc. and Beyond Meat) and cell-based meats (Memphis Meats and Mosa Meat) are two types of products that have been receiving national attention over the past few years, according to Eric Mittenthal, vice president of public affairs for the North American Meat Institute. Though very different in how they are produced, both groups are targeting the marketing demographic dominated by animal agriculture.

“Their audience is not the traditional vegan or vegetarian looking for new products,” explained Mittenthal. “They want to compete in the meat case for meat eaters.”   

Plant-based “meats” use a recipe of plant ingredients to imitate the properties of animal meat, while cell-based meats use cells taken from animals that are then grown in a lab. Though plant-based “meats” are now on store shelves, cell-based meats are still unavailable. Mittenthal said that the first commercially available cell-based meat could be ready as soon as 2019 but is still too expensive to be viable as a replacement for animal agriculture products.

The companies that are producing these products are not the only ones promoting them. Hannah Thompson-Weeman, vice president of communications for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, noted that many of the groups pushing for the widespread adoption of these products, such as the Good Food Institute and The Humane Society of The United States, have hostile views on animal agriculture.

“These are well-funded groups opposed to animal agriculture,” said Thompson-Weeman. “From their perspective, there is no way we can raise animals for consumption that is ethical and responsible. Their end goal is ending meat consumption.”

The panelists agreed that the best way to combat the negative attacks by these groups is to: Avoid disparaging consumer choices; Correct misinformation, but not engage in back-and-forth debates; Focus on interested consumers vs. extremists; and Devote energy to sharing positive information about animal agriculture and meat.

“Customers want choice and they need you to respect that they are entitled to choose,” said Leah McGrath, dietitian for BuildUp Dietitians. “Getting caught in the middle of these ideological battles is not helpful; it just creates negativity and suspicion. Take the high road and tell your story about what makes your products great.” 

Facing Fake News

Likewise, with farmers and ranchers on the front lines of the fight against internet hucksters and food faddists, respectful media relationships and an empathetic approach can help win the day, agricultural journalists Brian Winnekins and Sabrina Hill say. They addressed farmers and ranchers at a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention as well.

Trust, the two journalists said, underlies all successful media relations.

Farmers who want fair and accurate coverage should go out of their way to help reporters learn how agriculture really works. Rather than waiting for last-minute questions from journalists, ag advocates need to help writers learn their beats when they are new to the industry. Getting to know reporters and showing them how real farms operate is a good first step.

Farmers face many challenges, they said, but the current trend towards treating livestock as though they are pets is one of the most pernicious. Anti-science attitudes towards GMOs and other technologies also pose obstacles for farmers.

While bad and even unfair coverage sometimes happens, the two urged farmers not to back down, and not to hide from media some believe are antagonistic towards farmers. Persistence and a helpful attitude are more effective.

A similar approach to social media also helps, they said. Instead of lambasting or embarrassing others over their misinformed Facebook pages, a friendly inbox message or email with a link to relevant information may result in the removal of anti-ag nonsense, they said. Be nice, they said, but stay factual.

– American Farm Bureau Federation