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Beyond Meat boss supports tax on animal-based meat consumption

Published: Updated:

Founder of the world’s biggest plant-based meat firm has voiced his support for taxing meat products, citing that it would help cut peoples’ consumption of animal-based products, UK broadcaster the BBC reported on Monday.

Beyond Meat boss Ethan Brown told the BBC in an interview that he was a supporter of imposing a tax on meat consumption, he argues, could help emerging markets to invest in plant-based protein instead.

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Brown thinks that consumers have already started to make the choice to consume less meat, but critics argue that imposing this form of tax would raise the cost of living for many.

“If you look at shopper data that we have, 93 percent of the people that are putting the Beyond burger in their cart are also putting animal protein in,” he told the BBC.

Products from Beyond Meat Inc, the vegan burger maker, are shown for sale at a market in Encinitas, California, U.S., June 5, 2019. (File photo: Reuters)
Products from Beyond Meat Inc, the vegan burger maker, are shown for sale at a market in Encinitas, California, U.S., June 5, 2019. (File photo: Reuters)

“That says we’re getting more and more penetration into the broadest swath of the market, which is people who are consuming animal protein, but again, are hearing this information about their health or maybe hearing about climate, or maybe uncomfortable with factory farming, they’re deciding to cut down on their consumption of animal-based products,” he added.

Beyond Meat’s products are made from vegetables, such as mung beans and peas, and are colored with non-chemical substitutes, such as beetroot juice and apple extract to create the appearance of a regular meat product.

Brown said that while the prices of his plant-based meat alternatives could sometimes be more expensive than real animal meat, the prices will decline over time, adding that cost, taste and texture are the three key elements his company has to get right with every product.

Referencing a three-year global deal between the company, McDonalds, and Yum! Brands (parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC), he said: “As we scale, we’ll begin to be able to underprice animal protein – if you look at our facilities, and you look at the facilities of say, some of our plant or animal-based competitors … we’re still a very small company [but] that’s going to change.”

A staff member displays a burger with a Beyond Meat plant-based patty at VeggieWorld fair in Beijing, China November 8, 2019. Picture taken November 8, 2019. (File photo: Reuters)
A staff member displays a burger with a Beyond Meat plant-based patty at VeggieWorld fair in Beijing, China November 8, 2019. Picture taken November 8, 2019. (File photo: Reuters)

“One of the reasons I was so focused on these deals with McDonald’s and with Yum is because I believe that’s the route to [bringing] costs down and to scaling and to being able to make these products accessible to every consumer that wants them.”

Taxing meat would make the products of companies like Beyond Meat much cheaper in comparison, but the extent of the advantage that it would give will depend on the rate of the imposed tax, equity analyst at US financial services firm Morningstar Rebecca Scheuneman told the BBC.

The firm’s latest research highlighted that the global meat market was worth $1.4 billion in 2020 and is still projected to keep growing.

“Meat prices now have spiked up in the last couple of years [as] disruption from the pandemic caused a lot of disruption and meat production which caused higher prices,” she said, adding that she believes the prices for traditional animal meat will increase over time “given the limited resources of the Earth, and an increasing demand for meat”. This trend is likely to become more pronounced as emerging markets become wealthier, she explained.

Vegetarian sausages from Beyond Meat Inc, the vegan burger maker, are shown for sale at a market in Encinitas, California, US, June 5, 2019. (File Photo: Reuters)
Vegetarian sausages from Beyond Meat Inc, the vegan burger maker, are shown for sale at a market in Encinitas, California, US, June 5, 2019. (File Photo: Reuters)

According to Scheuneman, plant-based meats have been “most popular with younger generations”.

“It’s really the younger generations that have the most broad-based concern about our environment,” she said.

The United Kingdom’s government advisory body on climate change has urged ministers to advise people to eat less meat, in an effort to protect the environment. However, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out the possibility of taxing meat products as a solution.

The Beyond Meat President thinks that the environmental benefits of such a move would be important for the younger generation, as environmental concerns tend to be valued more highly by them.

“For a few dollars at the center of your plate, you can communicate what you’re about, you don’t have to go and buy that Tesla right away or some other electric vehicle, you can start by just doing something really simple, which is changing the protein at center of your plate,” he added.

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