There is a new player in the “fake meat” game. By “fake meat,” I am referring to plant-based protein that is intended to compete with hamburger.

From my column a few weeks ago entitled “A Sea Change for Cattle Prices,” I wrote: “Simply put, several plant-based protein companies have recently announced plans to start selling ‘ground beef’ in grocery stores. The ‘ground beef’ they are selling is not from cattle, but from plants that are grown. The poster child for fake beef is a firm called Beyond Meat.”

The most recent entry into fake meat business is an Israeli cell-grown meat specialist called Aleph Farms. They claim to have “developed a lab-produced steak that they say is indistinguishable from the real thing.”

Here are some highlights from an article entitled “Cloned steaks promise the end of farming as we know it.”

  • Best estimates suggest that livestock are responsible for around 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions.
  • Aleph is in talks with high-end restaurants in Europe, Asia and the United States to have their premium cloned steaks on the market by 2021.
  • Aleph Farms say they will provide meat that is healthier, more humane and entirely slaughter-free. The product will, they claim, have the same taste, texture and structure as farmed meat.
  • “Slaughter-free meat involves taking a sample of animal cells from a real cow and replicating them outside of the animal. It’s a cruelty-free process that, as well as minimizing meat production’s environmental footprint, does away with the need for unhealthy antibiotics and the risk of contamination.”
  • “It’s also a much quicker process. Aleph’s lab-grown meat takes about three weeks to go from a cell sample to a ready-to-eat steak — as opposed to the two years it takes to raise a steer from birth to slaughter.”
  • A spokesman for Aleph Farms said they hope to have their product in selected restaurants in 2021 for a trial period with an official launch scheduled for 2023, first in restaurants and eventually in supermarkets.

And here is the second-to-last paragraph from my column: “A fundamental principle of economics is ‘price moves the product.’ No doubt, as more and more firms enter the ‘alternative meat arms race,’ plant-based meat will get cheaper and cheaper, making it more and more difficult for beef to be competitive.”

Based on July U.S. Department of Agriculture data, American meat packers will slaughter 3% more pork in the second quarter of 2020 than in 2019. It will be the largest production figure on record.

For beef, USDA is pegging slaughter to be up 2% in the second quarter of this year and the largest quarterly production rate on record. By any measure, total red meat production in the United States will be all-time record large.

In the absence of a Chinese trade deal, the odds are increasing that cattle and hog prices in the United States are too high. Livestock producers should view any further strength with cattle or hog futures for the fourth quarter of this year as a legitimate selling or hedging opportunity.

The United States is swimming in red meat, which is great for consumers, but not so great for producers.

It also was announced recently that economic growth in China fell to a 38-year low. For U.S. ag producers, that is not the sort of news one wants to hear.

Since 2000, an often used phrase in agricultural is “as China goes, so go the U.S. commodity markets.” American farmers and ranchers need China as a buyer.

And to be perfectly blunt, they need us, as well, since food inflation in China, due to swine fever, has ratcheted up to a multi-year high.

The past few weeks have been interesting with more and more news items about “fake meat” and the number of firms rushing to be part of a new and booming industry.

It sort of reminds me of the all the press the computer industry was getting in the early ‘80s before “puters” changed the world we live in.

Can “fake meat” save the planet and feed the world’s population? Again, to repeat the headline from, “Cloned steaks promise the end of farming as we know it.”

The rise of the fake meat industry is a development that needs to be monitored closely by ranchers and livestock producers of all kinds.

Yoav Reisler, external relations manager for Aleph Farms, contacted AgriNews to clarify that cloned steaks and cultivated or cultured steaks are two completely different products and different ways of production.

Aleph Farms' product is cultivated meat and is produced by cultivating bovine-cells, not cloning them, Reisler said.

"Cloning is the process in which you get genetically-identical daughter cells from one parent cell. So, you start from one cell and get new cells which are clones of this singular cell," he said.

"In our process, when we are cultivating bovine-cells in cell culture, we start with thousands of cells which have the potential to proliferate and then differentiate to different functions. These cells are not genetically identical. The daughter cells of each 'starter cell' — a lot of them — in the mixture are technically clones, but the whole culture is not seen as clones."


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