The plant-based meat industry will need the millions of workers now employed in animal agriculture, the founder of Impossible Foods said Friday, but the slaughter room has to go.
Impossible CEO Patrick Brown described the slaughter-room as a feces-ridden public health hazard, but he said the rest of the machinery and labor that produces meat can be repurposed.
“Everything downstream of there, actually, a lot of it can be repurposed. If you work at an animal-based meat counter, and what goes into that counter is plant-based, we still need you,” Brown said in a Zoom call Friday. “If you’re a trucker who’s transporting food from farm to distributors or something like that—and currently it’s animals, and in the future it’s plant-based products—that job doesn’t go away.
“Jobs will change. Many jobs will change, but workers will still be required.”
Brown aims to displace the $1.5 trillion meat industry will plant-based meats in 15 years. He launched his company to solve what he considers a meat-based environmental catastrophe, but he thinks plant-based meat will succeed not by being virtuous, but by being more affordable, more nutritious and more delicious.
“It had to not require people at any scale buying into my concerns about climate change or biodiversity or the things motivating me,” he said, “and it had to be something where the motivation of consumers is exactly what motivates them in their food choices: deliciousness, nutritional value, affordability, convenience and so forth.”
The animal-meat industry is a “sitting duck” for disruption, Brown said in the webinar hosted by the University of Chicago’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, because it depends on an “inefficient prehistoric technology”—the slaughter of animals—“that hasn’t improved in millennia.”
Brown promised cleaner, safer, higher-paying jobs to most of the workers in the supply chain, but he acknowledged a worry for farmers.
“Most of the ingredients in our products come from farms, so those jobs, we are going to need farmers no matter what the products are,” he said, but that’s not the primary concern for farmers. “Most farmers’ wealth,” he said, “is in their land.”
Plant-based meats could produce as much meat as the animal-based industry using only 4 percent of the land area, Brown said. Restoring the biomass of all that land is an opportunity to mitigate climate change and restore the planet’s collapsing biodiversity.
“But what it means is, our success will devalue the major reservoir of wealth for a lot of farmers, and we’re actively thinking about how to mitigate that.”
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