By Gwynne Dyer -The French government has just published a decree banning the use of terms like “steak,” “spare ribs” and “ham” on plant-based foods. It’s not that the French are so stupid that they don’t know which is meat from dead cattle and which is “plant-based steak,” a label that has been used in French supermarkets for at least 40 years.
It’s about handicapping the fake meat industry: if you can’t say “plant-based steak,” how do the customers know what it’s meant to be a replacement for?
Well, those customers are vegans, or at least people trying to cut down on the amount of meat in their diets. They deserve to be confused because they are betraying and undermining the meat industry. Let them buy their “plant-based X,” and choke on it.
Governments are playing the same game all over the West. The journal “One Earth” analyzed U.S. and European Union agricultural policies 2014-2020 and found that only one-thousandth of the public money spent on helping the meat and dairy industry went to plant-based alternatives.
EU cattle farmers, by contrast, get at least 50% of their income from direct government subsidies. “The power of the animal farming sector, both in the U.S. and in Europe, and the political influence they have is just gigantic,” said Eric Lambin of Stanford University, the co-author of the study.
But don’t people in the meat industry understand that meat production will have to shrink drastically as climate change accelerates? That cattle specifically are responsible for almost one-tenth of all greenhouse-gas emissions, more than all other food production combined? Don’t they realize that they are a “sunset industry”?
Of course they do. Not your average cattle farmer, of course: most of them are in denial. But the techs and the bosses of “Big Meat” — the transnationals like Tyson Foods and Cargill (headquartered in the United States), JBS and BRF (Brazil), Vion Food Group (Netherlands) and the WH Group (China) — know exactly what the future holds.
They know that humankind has appropriated 40% of the land surface of the planet for its agriculture (up from seven per cent in 1700), removing both the trees and most of the original wildlife and replacing them with our own crops and food animals.
They know that half of the world’s agricultural land is devoted just to growing food for cattle. And they know that those cattle burp out enormous quantities of methane, the fastest-acting greenhouse gas.
They know that the pressure to return that half of the farmland to nature (“rewild it”) will grow and grow, because it’s the last hope for preserving a reasonable range of biodiversity on the planet. When those activists eventually get together with the people who are trying to cut emissions, beef and dairy production will go into retreat — but the question is when?
Because Big Meat also knows that Big Oil managed to go on making huge profits for 50 years after it knew the writing was on the wall. Only now, finally, is it being forced into a managed retreat.
Way back in 1977, ExxonMobil’s scientists accurately predicted a global temperature rise of 0.2 C per decade if fossil fuel use continued on its present trajectory. They also understood what that meant for the climate. Knowing all that, they nevertheless waged a campaign of denial and distraction that prevented any serious action for half a century.
Big Meat’s senior execs doubtless think that way too, so stand by for a long campaign of slander against plant-based protein and its far more formidable rival, “food from the air” or “farmfree” food.
But Big Meat will lose a lot quicker, because farmfree food requires no land beyond the hardstand that the bioreactor sits on, and it is almost infinitely flexible. Here comes the revolution. Again.