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Beyond Burger 3.0 debuts amid calls for alt meat research support

If plant-based meats have major benefits for the environment, should there be federal funding to support them?

Beyond Meat has developed a new "3.0" version of its plant-based burger. It comes at a time when some are asking why there isn't federal funding for plant-based meat, the way there has long been for animal meat.

Beyond Burger 3.0

Beyond Meat doesn't put actual version numbers on its products; Spot the new 3.0 formulation by a red label calling out taste improvements and a green one touting 35% less fat than animal ground beef.

Beyond Meat

The new Beyond Burger formulation has less fat, saturated fat, and calories than both its predecessor formula and 80/20 ground beef made from animals. The protein remains higher than in traditional ground beef.

Beyond traditional beef

80/20 ground beef Beyond 2.0 Beyond 3.0
Fat 22.6g 20g 14g
Sat. Fat 8.5g 6g 5g
Calories 287 270 230
Protein 19.4g 20g 20g

Such improvements might be seen as definitive if they were CPU speeds or storage costs, but food is a different sector, driven as much by tradition and perception as much as specs. That's where Beyond also claims its new formulation tastes "meatier and juicier," an unquantifiable aspect that will be up to each individual eater to judge. In a blind taste test at Beyond's facility in 2019 I preferred its 1.0 product over the 2.0, demonstrating that food doesn't always enjoy a straightforward path to perceived improvement.

Beyond's other announcement is part of an ongoing race to price parity with animal beef: A new four-pack retails for a suggested $9.99 or $2.50 per quarter-pound patty, well below even the aggressive $3.15 per patty price at Target (as of this writing), and far below the roughly $4 per patty price seen when the product launched -- but well above the $1.60 per patty price of a recent limited-time Beyond Meat value pack. "What do those new plant burgers cost?" can be a tricky question to answer when friends ask.

Beyond Burger 3.0 cross section
Beyond Meat

While retail prices and investor funding do their part to support the sector, some wonder why there isn't also government support. "The federal government has a big role to play," said Bruce Friedrich, founder of the Good Food Institute, in a March 31 New York Times opinion piece. "Quite simply, we're not going to reach Mr. Biden's laudable goal of net-zero emissions" unless the emissions from meat production are dealt with, he said.

Meat from animal slaughter has long enjoyed robust federal support for research and promotion via the USDA-administered Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board. It's funded by a mandatory $1 assessment on each cow sold into slaughter -- generating about $77 million dollars a year -- with a core goal of expanding the market for beef. The USDA estimates that the fund has grown beef demand by almost $12 for every dollar of assessment in recent years, leverage unavailable to plant-based competitors.

New York Times columnist Ezra Klein wrote that the lack of federal funding for plant-based meat "is the hole in the American Jobs Plan" proposed by the Biden administration, puzzling Klein with its lack of the kind of support that's taken for granted with electric cars, solar power, and energy-efficient appliances.

Instead of waiting for such support, Beyond Meat has announced the formation of the Plant-Based Diet Initiative Fund at the Stanford University School of Medicine. It's a clearinghouse for peer-reviewed research on the health impacts of a plant-based diet as well as discoveries of new ingredients that can step-change the pace of development of plant-based foods.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.