KEARNEY — U.S. beef producers are “steaking” their claim as the only true meat in Americans’ hamburgers.
“I don’t think there is anything that has stirred up the cattle industry more in the past year than fake meat,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President Jerry Bohn of Pratt, Kan., said Wednesday at the Nebraska Cattlemen Convention in Kearney.
He warned that although makers of alternative protein have been around a long time, newer businesses have the money to promote their products and also “talk bad about us.”
One of the “alternative” messages is that beef production is not good for the environment. Bohn’s response is there are 900 million acres of forage land in the United States that’s not good for any other thing.
He described cattle as “upcyclers” who take water, sunshine and forage, and turn them into protein.
“We still own the taste. We still own the quality,” Bohn said about beef’s standing among the meat alternatives. He added that real beef remains 99.5 percent of the market.
Another issue is requiring oversight of the processing and labeling of meat alternatives.
“You know soy milk, almond milk. The dairy industry lost that battle about 20 years ago when they didn’t protect their nomenclature,” Bohn said.
In addition to protecting the product name, he said it’s important to provide nutrient comparisons of real meat and the alternatives so consumers know what they are eating and buying.
Bohn said the definition of meat should be that it comes from livestock raised by farmers and ranchers for human consumption, and nothing else.
Several members of the U.S. Congress are trying to address those issues in a “Real Meat Act” that would define meat for labeling and label enforcement purposes.
It would require any product made to simulate beef, but that does not come entirely from a beef animal, to be labeled as “imitation.” The label must have a statement that says the product does not contain and is not derived from meat.
“Imitation should be as big as the word meat in the fake meat products,” Bohn said.
Meanwhile, he said, beef producers and organizations that represent them still must work hard to promote beef products, define their roles in healthy diets, and provide more information to consumers about livestock production on farms and ranches.
Many of those activities already are being done through NCBA programs funded by the beef checkoff, along with international and domestic marketing campaigns.
The well-known “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” campaign recently was rolled out again, Bohn said.
Important information for consumers includes that 85 percent of U.S. beef producers now are certified through the Beef Quality Assurance program, he said, and some processors no longer accept cattle from non-BQA certified suppliers.
A newer consumer benefit is “Chuck Knows Beef,” an app available for use on a computer, mobile phone, or Google or Amazon home assistant smart speaker. It offers general information about beef, cooking tips and recipes.
Bohn is disappointed and concerned about a lawsuit against the checkoff program launched by Montana members of another beef producer organization.
The checkoff, required since 1988 when beef producers approved it in a national referendum vote, is $1 collected when a beef animal is sold. Typically, half goes to federal checkoff administrator, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, and the other half goes to state beef councils.
State councils can opt to send some of their portion to NCBA for national promotion projects. Lawsuit plaintiffs from the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) oppose that redirection of funds.
Bohn said the lawsuit now involves 14 other states, including Nebraska.
It’s now before a magistrate judge in Montana who could make a ruling at any time, he said, but any ruling likely will be appealed by the losing side.