The beef industry and its supporters have tried multiple tactics in their battle against the rise of plant-based meats like Beyond and Impossible. They’ve attempted—with varying success—to legislate use of the term “meat”; they’ve also launched a campaign to help Americans “fight meat denial” and “forced vegetarianism.” But the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of consumer choice as well as the fast food, meat, soda, alcohol, and tobacco industries, has taken a different approach: It wants to convince consumers that plant-based meats are ultraprocessed and unnatural.
The CCF has recently taken out a series of full-page ads in newspapers including USA Today, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. These ads all paint plant-based meats as processed, artificial, and made with opaque ingredients. “What’s Hiding In Your Plant-Based Meat?” one reads. “So-called plant-based meats don’t grow on a vine. They ‘grow’ in factories,” reads another. All the ads direct readers to cleanfoodfacts.com, a website run by the CCF.
This could be one of the more compelling tacks the meat industry and its supporters take. Customers are increasingly concerned with transparency and labeling when it comes to ingredients, and recent headlines have made clear that plant-based meats aren’t inherently healthier for our bodies than animal-derived ones. Of course, some consumers choose plant-based options for ethical or environmental reasons, but this CCF campaign is aimed at those who value “natural” foods and “clean eating.”
Is this really a can of worms the traditional meat industry and its allies want to open, though? It’s not as though industrial agriculture in this country is so candid itself. Excepting some premium, small-scale meat products, we’re far from the days when a person could easily meet the farmer or animals who produced their burgers. The proliferation of certifications, seals, and label terms—from “No Antibiotics Ever” to “Humanely Raised” to “No Hormones Added” to “USDA Process Verified”—is an attempt at clarification that is itself confusing. The traditional meat industry might do well to remember the “lean finely textured ground beef” debacle before it encourages customers to question what exactly is in their burgers.