How We Respond to Industrial Food's Attacks on Regenerative Agriculture

If you have tuned into the news lately then it would be hard to ignore the sudden attention given to high-tech startups like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. These companies advertise meat replacement products and claim superiority over actual meat from both a nutritional and environmental perspective.

As this new wave of venture-capital-backed, ultra-processed “food” producers begin their onslaught of marketing aimed at persuading us to buy, we believe it is crucial to be thoughtful about their claims.  

To us, these products are just the latest evidence of Industrial Food’s assumption that they are capable of outwitting nature. Their business model casts aside the millions of years of trial & error and evolution built into the DNA of the real food that traditional farms already produce in harmony with nature. And why is that?

We recently published an infographic from soil4climate.org on our Instagram page that helps put things in perspective.

These companies are deep in the hole financially after years spent in labs genetically engineering their products. They have spent millions patenting technologies being harnessed for our consumption, and they need to see a return on that investment.

Apparently, Step #1 in that process is smearing their biggest competitor: real food.

Now, it would be one thing to criticize food raised by means of factory farming, which we have called out ourselves for its terrible impact on human, environmental, and animal welfare.

But in their June 2019 Impact Report, Impossible Foods went further than that by directly attacking holistic livestock management and the greater regenerative agricultural movement. This of course is where we begin to take issue.

In reading the report, we must first admit that their title, “Regenerative Grazing: The ‘Clean Coal’ of Beef” is a brilliantly devious persuasion play, and whoever came up with it deserves a raise. It immediately associates grass fed beef in readers’ minds with the dark imagery of smoke-billowing, fossil fuel-powered factories and industrialization as a whole.

But isn’t it ironic that while these marketers attempt to liken grazing livestock with pollution, it is in fact their own product that is made possible by industrialization? Quite the deflection!

It did not take long for the true practitioners and leaders in regenerative agriculture to provide their own simple and measured responses to the boisterous claims made by Impossible Foods.

As the Savory Institute noted in their response, there is plenty of peer-reviewed evidence documenting that properly-managed livestock can be a net positive for grassland ecosystems, carbon drawdown, wildlife habitat, and rural communities.

Perhaps even more interesting though, is the Institute’s mention of the third-party lifecycle analysis (LCA) recently conducted at Georgia’s White Oak Pastures, showing their holistically-managed beef, when taking into account all greenhouse gases in and out of their operation, was a net carbon sink. In other words, White Oak Pastures is sequestering more carbon than they emit in their grass fed beef operations.  

It comes as no surprise that Impossible Foods calls no attention to this in their attacks on regenerative agriculture, or to the fact that White Oak’s LCA was conducted by the same firm that worked with Impossible Foods on their own LCA.

While Impossible Foods’ LCA proved their product to be less environmentally impactful than factory-farmed beef, it at the same time shows that their genetically-modified, highly-processed product is still a net carbon emitter compared to the holistically-managed livestock at White Oak!

Graphic courtesy of EPIC Provisions.

It is no surprise Impossible Foods chose not to publish this information. 

Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, also issued a response. Harris published an open letter publicly inviting Impossible Foods leadership to his ranch in order to “see for themselves the many social, economic, and environmental benefits of regenerative grazing.”

Harris referenced White Oak’s LCA, which he states, “clearly demonstrates that the carbon footprint of our farm results in a positive impact on the environment-a claim that imitation meat companies cannot make.”

Time will tell if Impossible Foods and other new age industrial food producers will accept offers like those made by Will Harris to learn first-hand about the positive impact traditional farming systems can have.

But based on the current evidence, it is hard to imagine Impossible Foods taking up Mr. Harris on his offer.

Our bet is that they will opt to stay inside their labs and board rooms, and continue to leverage their mountains of investor cash in hopes of turning us away from real, traditional food.

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