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Opinion | COVID-19, meat shortage are why you should move to plant-based meat

Slaughterhouses throughout Michigan—and across the country—are grappling with astonishing numbers of coronavirus infections. It’s leading Meijer, Kroger, Wendy’s and other grocers and restaurants to limit the amount of meat customers can purchase. The breakdown of the meat supply is the result of the fragility and moral lapses of industrial farm animal production. 

Slaughterhouses are hotspots for COVID-19 infection because most workers must perform their jobs shoulder-to-shoulder in unsanitary conditions. In addition to being diagnosed with COVID-19 at heightened rates, slaughterhouse workers face high risks of other illness and injury. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “’[t]here are many serious safety and health hazards” of working at a slaughterhouse, including dangerous equipment, pain from performing fast, repetitive tasks and exposure to biological hazards like animal blood and feces. The U.S. Government Accountability Office notes that slaughterhouse workers have some of the highest rates of severe injuries. 

Animals also suffer tremendously. The overwhelming majority of farm animals in the United States are raised inside factory farms, which are operations where animals are kept by the thousands, often in tiny, barren cages that restrict their movement. Mother pigs used in the pork industry are locked in metal crates barely larger than their own bodies. Chickens killed for meat are crowded by the thousands in giant, windowless warehouses. They are bred to grow so large, so fast that their legs often become crippled under their own body weight. 

The World Health Organization acknowledged that “agricultural expansion and intensification” to meet humanity’s growing demand for animal meat is a driver of disease emergence, and confined animal feeding operations may amplify the risk of an epidemic in local communities.

One solution to this dangerous and brutal system is choosing meat made from plants instead of animals. Meat from plants? Of course, you’ve heard of veggie burgers before. But the newest plant-based meats mimic the taste and texture of animal meat more than ever and are packed with healthy plant protein. 

There are many delicious, hearty alternatives on the market, including products from Gardein, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Plant-based meats are widely available at grocery stores and at chain restaurants like Burger King, White Castle and Hardee’s. Michigan also boasts a growing community of local restaurants serving plant-based fare, from Detroit’s Nosh Pit to Bodega in Marquette. 

Morningstar Farms, owned by Michigan’s Kellogg Co., recently launched a 100 percent plant-based brand called Incogmeato. Even traditional meat companies are investing in plant-based. Tyson Foods has invested in these products, and Hormel launched its own plant-based brand

These companies are smart. Since COVID-19 started, plant-based meat sales have been skyrocketing

More can be done though to shift away from the archaic, unsafe production of industrial meat. Meat companies should ramp up their investments in plant-based technologies and diversify more into plant-based brands. Restaurants and food services companies that don’t currently offer meat alternatives should start serving plant-based meals. For example, since Wendy’s is limiting meat purchases, now would be the perfect time to start serving one of the many veggie burger brands that have the look and taste of animal meat, but without the numerous health and ethical problems.  

This change can be propelled by COVID-19 exposing industrial animal agriculture for what it truly is: cruel, dangerous and unsustainable. The food industry owes it to workers, animals and its own customers to put more plant-based foods front and center. With the price of animal meat on the rise, now is a perfect time for Michiganders to sample the variety of plant-based meats on the market.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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