Washington Insider -- Thursday

Testing Fake Burgers

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

House Panel Plans Hearing On RFS Small Refiner Waivers

A House Energy & Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the Trump administration’s use of small refinery exemptions (SREs) relative to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and the chairman of the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Ill., said in a statement that “the Trump administration’s abuse of EPA’s waiver authority is undermining the RFS program and devastating the renewable fuel industry.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., welcomed the hearing. "Our farmers and rural communities rely on the RFS for their economic viability, and EPA’s actions have done nothing but provide uncertainty and the potential for economic ruin," Peterson said.

It is not yet clear who will be testifying on behalf of the administration.

Suit Filed on EPA’s 2018 Small Refinery Waiver Actions

A suit has been filed by a coalition of biofuel supporters over the EPA rationale for granting small refinery exemptions (SREs) for the 2018 compliance year. The lawsuit was filed with the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

The groups cited an August 9 document from EPA detailing its rationale for resolving 36 SREs for 2018 in their lawsuit. “Unlike previous years, EPA’s entire decision document was only two pages long… In these short two pages, EPA purported to resolve 36 pending petitions for disproportionate economic hardship exemptions — a decision that exempted small refineries from having to blend almost one and a half billion gallons of renewable fuel,” the coalition wrote in a joint release.

In the document, EPA explained that it granted full exemptions in cases where the Department of Energy had recommended only partial waivers.

The court challenge was filed by American Coalition for Ethanol, Growth Energy, National Biodiesel Board (NBB), National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), National Farmers Union (NFU) and Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

Washington Insider: Testing Fake Burgers

If you think these are confusing times, you would both be right and have company. For example, a central idea of the food elitists in recent years has been built on commitments to the most natural, the simplest, the most traditional—and the least processed. All else was suspect, at the very least.

So, how are we to interpret the recent tidal wave of market interest, as well as intense and approving reports in the urban press for the new “fake meat?” It is claimed to be a way to deal with global warming—based on extremely controversial claims by manufacturers and supporters and by the press including high profile urban magazines and dailies. And it is credited with many desirable characteristics, these reviews say, including its “almost meat” taste.

So, it probably was inevitable that some group would run a test, and the New York Times reported just that this week. The report said that new generation of veggie burgers aims to replace the beefy original with “fake meat or fresher vegetables.” The report included a “blind tasting of six top contenders.”

The article says that in only two years, food technology has moved consumers from browsing for wan “veggie patties” in the frozen aisle to selecting fresh “plant-based burgers” sold next to the ground beef.

The Times says there is still a fight going on behind the scenes at the supermarket as meat producers sue to have the words “meat” and “burger” restricted to their own products as government standards have traditionally done. Even so, makers of meat alternatives like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are vying to claim growing shares of the global fast-food market as big players like Tyson and Perdue join the fray.

However, some stakeholders are less enthusiastic – environmental and food scientists are insisting that we eat more plants and less processed food, while many vegetarians and vegans say the goal is to break the habit of eating meat, not feed it with surrogates.

“I would still prefer to eat something that’s not lab-grown,” said Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the chef at the vegan restaurant Modern Love in Omaha, where her own burger is the most popular dish on the menu. “But it’s better for people and for the planet to eat one of those burgers instead of meat every day, if that’s what they are going to do anyway.”

The new refrigerator-case “meat” products already comprise one of the fastest-growing segments of the food industry, the Times says.

Some products are “proudly high-tech,” the Times notes, assembled from an array of starches, fats, salts, sweeteners and synthetic umami-rich proteins. They are made possible by new technologies that, for example, whip coconut oil and cocoa butter into tiny globules of white fat that give the Beyond Burger the marbled appearance of ground beef.

Others are resolutely simple, based on whole grains and vegetables and reverse-engineered with ingredients like yeast extract and barley malt to be crustier, browner and juicier than their frozen veggie-burger predecessors. At the same time, some consumers are turning away from those familiar products, not only because of the taste, but because they are most often made with highly processed ingredients, the Times says.

But how do all the newcomers perform? The Times restaurant critic and its cooking columnist lined up both kinds of new vegan burgers for a blind tasting of six national brands. Though many people have already tasted these burgers in restaurants, the Times said it aimed to replicate “the experience of a home cook with children.” In fact, the test produced a winner although it reported that it had a fairly high cost of almost $9 for a 12-ounce package.

The test notes said that the winner had a “brawny flavor,” that convinced some of the children that it was real and that it “quite successfully replicates the bloody look and taste of a rare burger.”

But meat it was not. The article say the ingredient list included water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil, natural flavors, 2 percent or less of: potato protein, methylcellulose, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, food starch-modified, soy leghemoglobin, salt, soy protein isolate, mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), zinc gluconate, thiamine hydrochloride (vitamin B1), sodium ascorbate (vitamin C), niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12.

The other, lesser ranked products differed in several ways, including whether or not they included GMOs, a somewhat odd criterion. They generally cost between $4 and $6 for two four-ounce patties. Several of the “fake burgers” were less aimed at seeming like traditional burgers than at being better “artificial burgers.”

So, we will see. It seems certain that the move to acceptance for a totally processed product will prove harder for the food elitists to accept than it has seemed so far and the product cost may discourage consumption for some – although cost has not slowed acceptance of organic products nearly as much as some expected. How well the products, with all their varied ingredients, fare under the microscopes of nutritionists and other analysts; and, how acceptable the corporate provenance of the manufacturers proves to be in the longer term may be a factor, as well.

One thing is clear; these competitors are real, often well-funded, and seriously intend to take traditional markets wherever they can, and producers should watch their investments closely as they emerge, Washington Insider believes.

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