A new study showed that the market of the plant-based meat will dramatically grow, to be worth $8.3 billion by the year 2025. (Vegan,2020) In 2020, many companies around the world introduce the plant-based meat to their majors. Plant-based meat becomes more popular than before and even regarded as the potential world-changing product. But what’s the scientific benefits of the plant-based meat? Is it a fad or the future of the food? Are there any obstacles to its development?
Plant-based meat – an alternative to old-fashioned meat
Gas emissions per gram of protein in poultry is the highest among the various sources of protein which increases the greenhouse effect. Plant-based meat satisfy the growing demand of meat consumption with less environmental resources required compared to animal husbandry. According to research, 82%~96% of the clean water and 90% space can be conserved if the production of the red meat is replaced with the plant-based meat, which is in the interest of utilitarianism to preserve these resources and enable more people to have opportunities for meat consumption, thus increasing the ‘pleasure’. The public awareness of animal rights should be considered. Even in modern society, a large number of animals are still being slaughtered under an extremely poor and inhumane conditions. (Animal Rights, 2021) The spread of plant-based meat assists in mitigating or even stopping the slaughter of animals, which satisfies the requirement of aspirational code of conduct to change the world in a positive way and minimize harm. Less slaughter is also supported by Kantian theory because it is in agreement with the moral rule that animal rights should be treated the same as human beings in some degree.
NHS estimates that 25% adults’ life is affected by obesity in the UK, which is also a severe problem around the world. The excessive red meat consumption is related to many chronic, potentially deadly diseases such as high cholesterol, cancers, cardiovascular disease. (Bridgeman, 2020) The development of plant-based meat enables the overweight people to have a better nutrient balance without adding too much pressure on them. The increase in plant-based meat consumption is led by categorical imperatives and therefore it is a good will, because almost everyone would like to have a healthy body. The pandemic of Covid-19 has accelerated the development of plant-based meat industry. The outbreaks of epidemic in crowded and dirty factory farms reminds people of that public health hazard. (Piper, 2020) The antibiotic and hormones existing in forage cause another worldwide public health problem-antibiotic resistance. Both can be solved by promoting the proportion of plant-based meat consumption, which meets the target of utilitarianism to produce maximum happiness.
The sales of plant-based meat reach $5 billion in 2019 and are predicted to be worth $8.3 billion in 2025. Even some large meat production companies invest in plant-based meat such as Impossible Burger from Burger King, (Bridgeman, 2020) suggesting the increasing trend of consumer interest in alternatives. For both companies and consumers, the utilitarianism can be applied because meatless meat creates more job opportunities and the taste is the same as meat.
Plant-based meat——the impact on current conceptions
Although plant-based meat has gained some ground, there are still many problems that cannot be avoided. The primary concern of the public is the security of vegetarian meat. To achieve the taste and flavor similar to the real meat, manufacturers choose to apply various food additives and highly process vegetarian meat. Compared with real meat, plant-based meat contains much higher levels of sodium. Heme is also used to give the meat its red color and beefy taste. However, too much sodium can lead to a host of health problems, including high blood pressure. Heme has also been reported to be associated with an increased risk of type-2 diabetes. By utilitarianism, more realistic taste at the expense of long-term health is unacceptable because consumers’ greater happiness is sacrificed.
Besides, plant-based meat has also faced opposition from some purchasers further down the supply chain. According to a 2019 report in San Francisco Chronicle, Several American catering companies announced they were suspending their procurement of plant-based meats from Beyond and Impossible. From Kantian theory, they agreed that real food should follow the principle of ‘raw quality ingredient + handmade’. While vegetarian meat products were popular in the region, the catering companies argued that food products containing genetically modified ingredients and alternative fillers go against their motto of ‘Food with integrity’, which is immoral. Also, meat plays a vital role in society and family traditions for omnivores. Plant-based meat can replace the taste of meat and satisfy the taste buds, but not so completely. From a caring perspective, it can’t pass on the emotional value of meat itself in human communication. Tofurky, a plant-based food company, a manager said it could not seem to carry the same sentimental, symbolic value as a whole roasted bird on Thanksgiving Day.
Another topic focuses on the protection of the environment. As stated above, plant-based meat consumption can save a lot of natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, that does not mean plant-based meat is environmentally friendly. The widely planting of genetically modified (GM) crops has created new problems. According to Hodo plant-based tofu company’s founder Minh Tsai, genetically modified soya has caused genetic contamination in the region. The number of soybean varieties has shrunk from 200 to 20 over the past 50 years. Intensive crop monocultures reduce the resilience of the local environment to pest hazards and climate change. For utilitarianism, this is not a good deal. Although it solves resource consumption, new and complex environmental problems are also created. From the virtue ethical point of view, although plant-based meat companies promote environmentally friendly and healthy vegetarian diets, they are motivated by profit rather than long-term moral, social or political considerations. It is not to say that these companies are unethical at all. However, In the pursuit of the profit maximization process, they may ‘cross the line’ in the absence of ethical regulation and professional guidance.
We are for the development of plant-based meat, even though it has some ethical flaws.
Janelle Bitker. (2019) ’Four ethical questions about plant-based meat’, Available at: https://www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/Four-ethical-questions-about-plant-based-14486312.php
Jeff Sebo. (2018) ’The ethics and politics of plant-based and cultured meat’, Available at: https://www.erudit.org/en/journals/ateliers/2018-v13-n1-ateliers04192/1055123ar/
Desley L. White and Avril Collinson (2013) ‘Red Meat, Dietary Heme Iron, and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: The Involvement of Advanced Lipoxidation Endproducts’, Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC394182
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Animal Rights. (2021) “Animal Rights – Who We Are” Available at: https://www.animalrights.nl/animal-rights-who-we-are?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI6tGR_rWp7wIVlJ3VCh1EbAQuEAAYAyAAEgKJ-vD_BwE (Accessed: March 15, 2021)
Bridgeman, Laura. (2020) “Plant-Based Meat: A Brighter Future for Food?” Available at: https://sentientmedia.org/plant-based-meats/ (Accessed: March 13, 2021)
Piper, Kelsey. (2020) “The next challenge for plant-based meat: Winning the price war against animal meat” Available at: https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/21366607/beyond-impossible-plant-based-meat-factory-farming (Accessed: March 17, 2021)
Vegan food and living. n.d. “Global plant-based meat market set to be worth $8.3 billion by 2025” Available at: https://www.veganfoodandliving.com/news/plant-based-meat-market-worth-8-billion-2025/ (Accessed: March 10, 2021)