Issues & Insights

Nothing’s ‘Impossible’ When It Comes To Innovation

The Green New Dealers want us to think we have to either live more austere lives under coercive government policies or destroy the planet. Opponents of their plan, the theory goes, are willing to sacrifice the environment for short-term financial prosperity for the elite few.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Meeting Americans’ needs, especially those of the neediest, requires free markets that can realize and reward the benefits of technological innovations, big and small. 

Big innovations are those such as the high-yielding grains created and made available by “Father of the Green Revolution” Norman Borlaug; small, incremental ones might be the introduction of disc brakes (a few decades ago) and the 5G networks soon to be widely available.

The authors of this piece have distinctly different diets, mainly because one is strictly kosher and the other is (emphatically) not, but we both enjoy eating red meat. And although we are sympathetic to concerns about the impacts of raising and consuming meat, some more valid than others, neither of us is inclined to become a vegetarian, nor do we support the sin tax on meat that some have proposed to fight climate change, spare animals, or whatever.

A remarkable innovation now enables us and other carnivores to enjoy something that tastes very much like meat, but is completely guilt-free. With seed funding from Bill Gates, Google and other innovation-oriented investors, a company called Impossible Foods has sought to address climate change by developing plant-based meat alternatives meant to appeal not to vegetarians, but to meat-lovers like us.

Despite the displeasure of cattle ranchers (because it’s competition), opposition from environmental activists (it uses “GMOs”), and – improbably – outrage from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (requires food safety testing on rats to satisfy the Food and Drug Administration), the Impossible Burger is hoofing it into the U.S. market in a big way.

The FDA has confirmed the safety of Impossible Foods’ plant-sourced leghemoglobin, a meat protein that is partly responsible for the taste, texture and appearance of meat. The burger even cleared another major regulatory hurdle when it was certified as kosher by the Orthodox Union.

Burnishing its high-tech chops, the company unveiled Impossible Burger 2.0 last year at the Consumer Electronics Show, where it created a sensation. These burgers create a win-win situation. They offer us the ability to reduce our consumption of (real) meat, should we wish to do so – and it’s good news for those who think the world would be better off if we did.

The only side effects from the Impossible Burger are headaches, heartburn, and panic attacks in the self-designated food elite who demand that we eat “naturally” to protect the planet. 

Improvements in agriculture are typically continual and incremental, but cumulatively they can make a big difference, especially to those at the bottom of the food chain – subsistence farmers. But there are always naysayers, such as the activists who reject farming with state-of-the-art pesticides and crops developed with the most precise and predictable genetic techniques. Why would anyone do that?  Simple – they are mouthpieces for the purveyors of inferior, overpriced competing organic products, which are made with primitive practices that are wasteful of water and arable farmland.

How primitive is organic agriculture? Plant pathologist Steve Savage analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2014 Organic Survey, which measures productivity from most of the nation’s certified organic farms, and compared them with those at conventional farms, crop-by-crop and state-by-state. His findings are extraordinary: Of the 68 crops surveyed, organic farms showed a “yield gap” – poorer performance – in 59.

Many of the shortfalls were large: Organic strawberries yielded 61% less than conventional farms; fresh tomatoes, 61% less; tangerines, 58% less; cotton, 45% less; rice, 39% less; peanuts, 37% less.

“To have raised all U.S. crops as organic in 2014 would have required farming of 109 million more acres of land,” Savage concludes. “That is an area equivalent to all the parkland and wild land areas in the lower 48 states, or 1.8 times as much as all the urban land in the nation.”

Inexcusably, the federal government is heavily involved in setting standards for and promoting organic practices. The reason is something of a historical anomaly. When the organic standards were promulgated in 2000, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman was unequivocal about the fundamental meaninglessness of the organic designation: “Let me be clear about one thing, the organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.”

Truly disruptive innovation is not only rare, but as Impossible Foods is learning, bringing game-changing products to market requires overcoming resistance from entrenched interests that pretend to represent the public interest. 

If we are to raise our standard of living, increase longevity, and protect the natural environment, new and innovative technologies will be essential. And we should let the marketplace decide their success or failure. In today’s polarized environment, that’s no nothing-burger.

Stier is a senior fellow at the Consumer Choice Center and a senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He was the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology.

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  • They should have called it the Insufferable Burger. Here are the ingredients (from the Impossible Foods website):

    Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% 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.

    I’ll stick with the grass-fed beef hamburgers Mother Nature provides.


    • Thank you. I’ve never felt a bit of an urge to try an impossible burger. I do believe in eating naturally and knowing what I’m eating. If someone wants to eat meat, maybe it’s because meat is good for you and their body is telling them that they need some protein, fat and iron. What would make you think that some manufactured facsimile would be good for you?

  • As an American, I have the right to buy and eat what I please, I don’t need some obviously biased self-appointed experts telling me what to do. Your comments richly reveal that you know nothing about the value of organic food. If you don’t like organic food, don’t eat it, but keep your nose out of my business.

    • You do have every right to buy and eat what you please. If you want to waste your money on organic rice that’s just fine. But this is America and everyone is also free to comment on the meaninglessness and uselessness of the organic designation that you are selling.

  • developing plant-based meat alternatives meant to appeal not to vegetarians, but to meat-lovers like us.

    What do they think ‘appeal’ is? Something closely related to the fake news from CNN, which you know has been pre-edited to omit interesting stuff to help you conform to the Editors’ views? We long-time carnivores are very unlikely to regard fake meat with anything but disgust. Maybe the counterfeiters who manufacture the fake stuff should try it on other carnivores, such as bobcats and mountain lions, and see if they don’t turn up their noses too.

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