Posted on: May 16, 2020 at 3:17 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic, which supposedly began its spread from a wet market in Wuhan, China, has opened up a debate about food safety in the country. As such, American consumers are becoming increasingly wary of Chinese imports, particularly when it comes to food products.

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Despite this, while American beef and pork producers have been experiencing major losses since the virus hit the United States, sales of plant-based meat alternatives have skyrocketed. Even though the majority of the ingredients for these products are supplied by China, sales of plant-based protein were 224 percent higher at the end of April than they were at the same time last year [1].

Vegan Burger Patty Production in China

Some are now speculating whether this upward trend will start to reverse as people begin boycotting Chinese-made goods. The two market leaders in vegan meat alternatives are Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, and both of these companies receive the majority of the ingredients for their products from China.

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Recently, Beyond Meat signed a large deal with Shuangta Foods, which stipulated that the Chinese company will provide 85 percent of the pea protein for its products. Some think this deal will make consumers think twice before buying.

“The coronavirus crisis has many Americans questioning the wisdom of being so reliant on China, both from a practical and ethical point of view,” Will Coggin, managing director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a food industry-backed advocacy group, said. “Once American consumers learn that so much ultra-processed plant protein comes from China, fake meat won’t seem so appetizing.” [1]

Read: Healthwashing—What Does It Mean for the Plant-Based Movement?

A History of Scandal

This is not the first time food safety standards in China have come into question. In 2007, plant-based proteins from China that were used to make pet food were contaminated with melamine and ended up killing nearly four thousand cats and dogs across the US [1].

Not long after that, the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture found that between 2.5 and three million Americans had eaten chicken and pork from animals that had eaten tainted Chinese feed.

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In 2008, three hundred thousand children became ill, many experiencing renal failure, and six children died from consuming milk powder laced with melamine to make it appear as though it had a higher protein content [2].

As it turns out, Americans aren’t the only ones concerned with food safety in China. A 2011 survey found that food safety was the most concerning issue in Chinese people themselves, surpassing the concern for public security, traffic safety, and medical safety [3].

Read: How to Throw a Vegan Cookout Everyone Will Enjoy (Even Non-Vegans)

Impossible Foods Speaks Out

When asked about how they can guarantee the safety and quality of their products considering that China was where the pandemic began, neither Now Foods or Beyond Meat responded. Impossible Foods spokesperson Lucas Thomson stated that the company’s supply chains haven’t been affected and that they are constantly evaluating to ensure product safety.

He also stated that the company is restricting visitors to its facilities, and the facilities of its manufacturing partners and all workplaces are operating under strict deep cleaning and sanitation standards.

“Impossible Foods meets or exceeds all guidelines set forth by applicable public health agencies and continuously consults with experts in the public and private sector,” he said [1].

Critics point out that Impossible Foods places the burden of food safety on the shoulders of its suppliers, as per their “Supplier Code of Conduct”, which states that the supplier is expected to report any issue that could affect the quality of Impossible Foods Products. This code, however, does not appear to be well-enforced [1].

Read: Vegetarian Lady Ate a Single Meat Burger and Eventually Became a Cruelty-Free Pig Farmer

China Remains Dominant in the Food Processing Industry

Despite the numerous scandals that have received global attention in recent years, China is still a global leader in food processing. Up to 79 percent of soy protein isolate, 50 percent of the textured soy protein, and 23 percent of the soy protein concentrate that is used around the world come from China.

These raw materials are what goes into many protein powders, protein bars, and protein supplements that have become so popular in North America. Before the pandemic began, Impossible Foods founder and CEO Pat Brown is predicting growth for the company in the second half of the year.

“Demand has soared from every category in which we do business.” he said. “large fast-food chains, individual restaurants, colleges and universities, corporate campuses, theme parks and more.” [1]

Alternatives to Alternative Meat

With concerns about climate change and implications that mass-production meat farms have for human health and the environment, many have made the switch to plant-based meat alternatives such as Beyond Meat. It may then be disappointing to learn that these products may have a dark side as well.

If you have made the switch to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, or you are simply trying to cut back on your meat consumption, try instead to focus on unprocessed sources of protein. Beans and legumes, lentils, quinoa, and nuts all provide protein without a large amount of processing that comes with meat alternatives, and there is less worry about heavy metal contamination that is a concern among consumers of protein supplements.

If you aren’t looking to switch to a completely vegetarian lifestyle, but want to lower your carbon footprint, try purchasing meat from local farmers who use ethical practices when raising their animals. Now more than ever, farmers need our support, and your purchase can boost the local economy and be good for the planet.

Keep Reading: Six-Minute Video Shows How Lab Technicians Isolate “Meat-Like Compounds” to Create the GMO Impossible Burger

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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