Why Indiana hog farmers aren’t pleased

Why Indiana hog farmers aren't pleased


A few months ago John Hardin stopped by a Burger King to try the Impossible Whopper for the first time. The plant-based burger patty on the Whopper sandwich had been lab engineered to mimic the taste and appearance of beef, and its soaring popularity last year created a national shortage.

“I wanted to taste it for myself,” the Danville, Indiana, resident said. “I wanted to see how close it was.”

Hardin had another reason for wanting to try the Impossible Burger: He wanted to understand what he saw as his future competition.

“This is going to have an impact on what I do, and I realized it was only one data point,” said the 75-year-old patriarch of a family of Hoosier pork producers. “This is the very, very early days in how this will evolve.”

About a year after Redwood, California-based Impossible Foods rolled out the Impossible Burger 2.0 in January 2019, the company introduced its newest plant-based product, Impossible Pork, at the international Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Like its predecessor, Impossible Pork is engineered to replicate meat, and has some Indiana farmers bracing for what could possibly be a disruption to their business. The National Pork Producers Council, meanwhile, is objecting to the company’s use of “pork” — a word that means flesh of a pig used for food — to describe a product derived from plants.

The food fight has begun.

California-based Impossible Foods unveiled its product, Impossible Pork, at the International Consumers Electronics show in Las Vegas last month.

Is pork still pork if it’s not from a pig?

Your tenderloin or pork chop may well have come from an Indiana farm.

With roughly 2,800 farms raising hogs, Indiana is the fifth largest exporter of pork in the U.S. About 66% of Hoosier production takes place on farms that have more than 5,000 heads of hogs, said Josh Trenary, executive director of the Indiana Pork Producers Association.

Those hogs can end up at processing plants in Kentucky, Michigan and elsewhere, where they are made into chops, ham and bacon later stacked on grocery store shelves.

Impossible Foods aims to disrupt that process. The company’s mission minces no words: eliminate the use of animals as a food source by 2035. In the place of animals, the company wants to see meat derived from alternative sources such as plants via processes that have less of an environmental impact.

Rachel Konrad, Impossible Foods spokeswoman, said the company is a long way from reaching that goal. To do that, the startup would have to double its growth, revenue and “everything else” every year for at least the next 15 years — an ambitious feat, Konrad admits.

U.S. pork producers say they are concerned about Impossible Foods using the word  "pork" to describe the food tech company's newest plant-based product Impossible Pork.

For now, Impossible Foods just wants to get its plant-based, gluten-free meat in front of omnivores.

The company says its scientists have created what it views as a more sustainable, affordable way to make “meat” to feed a growing population.

Similar to the Impossible Burger, the company’s plant-based pork contains soy leghemoglobin, a heme protein produced when scientists genetically engineer and ferment yeast. Heme is found in living plants and animals, and Impossible Foods says its version of heme is similar to what carnivores consume in meat. The molecule gives cooked meat its flavors and aromas, the company says.


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By Javier Manning

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