If you are one of those who think that the government is too big or there is too much regulation, a quick perusal of the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service press releases from 2018 shows just how much work they do to keep what you eat safe — and also that a lot of meat was recalled last year.
But now food inspectors from the USDA (which is responsible for inspections of meat, poultry and eggs) and the FDA are working without pay. First, let’s appreciate that fact since most of us in the private sector probably would not do the same. And even though the Secretary of the USDA took to Twitter to reassure people:
Want to calm some fears because of somewhat sensational reporting on the shutdown. @USDAFoodSafety inspectors are still at work, checking meat, poultry & processed eggs. Inspectors also screening for pests at export & import points, incl between Hawaii & Puerto Rico and mainland.
— Sec. Sonny Perdue (@SecretarySonny) January 11, 2019
the fact of the matter is that not paying your employees for an indeterminate amount of time probably won’t yield better performance.
This sounds mercenary, but the government shutdown and the news that food inspectors might be disgruntled (rightfully!) couldn’t have come at a better time for plant-based burger companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
There are actually a number of factors converging at once that could make this a banner year for alterna-meat companies. First, sales of plant-based meats were already on an upswing: dollar sales of plant-based meat grew 23 percent from August 2017 to August 2018. A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that plant-based burgers taste better than ever, and are actually a decent substitute when it comes to the texture and feel of eating a burger. Our own Mike Wolf said he would give up meat burgers for the new Impossible burger, and all of us here at The Spoon can’t wait to try the new Beyond Meat Burger 2.0.
Despite all these advancements, 2018 was projected to be a record year for meat consumption in the U.S. But 2018 was also a year for numerous meat recalls, capping it all off with a raw beef recall that included twelve million pounds in December. Did that steady stream of recalls ultimately have an impact on what people purchased? Or are people just used to it now?
To be fair, one of the bigger recalls last year was for romaine lettuce, so it’s not like being plant-based is a magic wand that protects your product from foodborne illnesses.
While USDA food inspectors not getting paid probably isn’t top of mind for most people when they get groceries, every little bit of bad news contributes to an increasingly negative narrative about traditional beef. It’s bad for the environment, ethically complicated, gets recalled regularly, and now the people charged with keeping it safe aren’t getting paid.
I’m not cheering on a government shutdown (quite the opposite), but if it lasts and food safety issues stay in the headlines, it could be a boon for sales of plant-based alternatives. This potential boon would come at a time when Impossible is making the move to sell their burgers at retail and when Beyond Meat is preparing to go public. A successful IPO for Beyond will give them the money to expand their operations and pave the way for Impossible to IPO as well, which would fuel its own expansion.
We hope the shutdown ends soon and everyone can get paid, but until then we’ll be watching to see if it impacts the food choices people make.