The good, ol’ hamburger (Animal Science Update)
(Editor’s note: Michael Westendorf is with the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University.)
There have been several news reports recently about Plant-Based Meat Alternatives (referred to in this article as PBMA’s).
Several of these are mostly or wholly made of plant materials. Claims run the gamut for these products; healthier, more sustainable, lower carbon footprint, just as tasty.
Other companies plan to produce cell-cultured meats (not discussed here); muscle cells will be cultivated and with the correct growth environment will grow and become meat, burghers, steaks, chops, roasts, etc.
This may sound like “Star Trek,” but it is feasible.
You can search for information about several of these companies at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/fake-meat-alternatives-are-plant-based-meats-actually-healthier-than-meat/.
One thing I noticed (see Feedstuffs Magazine: https://www.feedstuffs.com/news/chipotle-ceo-meat-alternatives-too-processed) was the number of ingredients used to prepare these PBMA burgers.
Each of the burgers described in the Feedstuffs article contains nearly 20 different ingredients. I don’t consider these products “natural,” beef marketed as natural often refers to grass-fed beef raised for most of its life fed only forages or pasture. I was also curious why was methylcellulose one of the ingredients? Methylcellulose is an indigestible fiber.
It is probably being used as an emulsifier (helps to blend the ingredients together). However, another common use of methylcellulose is as a laxative.
Beef is produced by cattle and calves that spend most of their lives consuming grass and forage.
Most of the grains consumed is in the last five to six months of an animals’ life.
The meat from a beef animal offers a complete source of protein containing a good blend of amino acids, a good mixture of minerals and vitamins, especially vitamin B-12 that cannot be found in plants. I assume that the vitamins in these PBMA’s are synthetically derived.
The carbon footprint, particularly methane production, of beef is often criticized.
I expect that these PBMA’s also have a carbon footprint. Nowhere in any article or on a website did I see any references to this.
The beef industry has been very forthcoming about carbon footprint.
All the 20 or so ingredients present in the PBMA meats will contribute to any carbon footprint discussions.
In 1976 there were nearly 140 million beef cows in America, today there are between 90 and 100 million.
However, the amount of beef produced today, about 26 billion pounds per year in the US is similar to what was produced in 1976.
Today’s beef cows are leaner, and animals reach market weight having consumed less feed than their predecessors.
The entire production process is shorter, more efficient, and results in a lower carbon footprint than in the past (https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/89/12/4249/4772093).
Beef producers often feel singled out about greenhouse gas production, irrespective of the increasing efficiencies of modern beef production.
To state, as some have done, that eating fewer cheeseburgers will save the planet is not realistic.
According to the EPA 2017 Inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions report (https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2019-04/documents/us-ghg-inventory-2019-chapter-5-agriculture.pdf) – methane production from beef cows contributes 23.9 percent of the total agriculture CO2 equivalent.
This is about 2 percent of the total United States CO2 equivalents from bovine methane production (both enteric and from manure storages).
All greenhouse gasses are converted to CO2 equivalents, as the referenced EPA report does.
There are many sources of CO2 much greater than methane from cows (automobiles, trucking, factory emissions, oceans, etc.).
Even if people stopped eating cheeseburgers entirely, very unlikely, the reduction would be small.
Nonetheless, the beef industry and other animal and agricultural industries should continue to make every effort to reduce greenhouse gas production and carbon footprint.
A further observation about the PBMA and cell culture industries, in their writings some were dismissive bordering on arrogance toward animal agriculture. T
here are millions, if not tens of millions of people contributing to and relying on the beef industry for their livelihood. I expect most of them will continue to consume beef.
I purchased one of these PBMA meat substitutes (there are several of these Plant Based Meat Alternative’s on the market), in addition to ground beef at a local supermarket.
It was expensive, $9.99 per pound vs. $2.99 per pound for 87-percent lean ground beef. The packaging listed nearly 20 different ingredients.
We made these burgers and grilled them in a skillet, we also cooked up some ground beef hamburgers.
My three sons and I tried these PBMA burgers. We all preferred the ground beef.
We ate the PBMA meat plain, perhaps if we had smothered the burgers in condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, onions, etc.) we might have noticed less of a difference.
The one thing that my wife and I did not like was the odor of the product upon opening the package.
To us it smelled like dog food fresh out of a can, after cooking this odor permeated our kitchen and dining room for the next several hours.
We probably didn’t give the PBMA a proper chance and this was certainly not statistically valid, but based on our observations and preferences, this PBMA was not yet ready for prime time.
If you are interested, make your own observations and derive your own conclusions by purchasing, cooking, and eating one of these PBMA products.
Make sure you compare it to ground beef hamburgers while doing so. I think you will conclude, as we did, that the good old ground beef hamburger will be around for a long time to come.
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