There is no debate: when compared to an identical size piece of beef, the Beyond Burger is far more sustainable. Whether it is a sustainable product aside from this comparison is a little more difficult to gauge because of ambiguous or missing pieces of information (i.e. What is the factory like? How exactly are the burgers made? How are the ingredients processed? What machines are used to produce the Burgers? How much waste is accumulated from your site? Do you pay fair wages to coconut oil producers in Indonesia?) Although there is less than ideal disclosure about exactly how green the Beyond Burger is, sustainability is a key ingredient in the burger because it is made using less energy, less water, less land, and has less emissions than other meats. I believe it is more important to consider the impact of the product and not the company’s withholding of certain production details. If you have never tried a Beyond Burger I would highly encourage partaking in such a unique food experience. The CEO reminds customers to not think of the Beyond Burger as a way to stop eating meat but as a new kind of meat.
The ingredient that makes the Beyond Burger different from most other meats is pea protein. Peas, like other legumes, have the ability to work with bacteria to convert atmospheric nitrogen into useful nitrates. This makes peas a “regenerative crop”, effectively improving soil fertility and decreasing dependence on energy intensive fertilizers. Expeller pressed canola oil is used in the Beyond Burger. 70% of their supply is sourced from Canada, where it must be repackaged in the US then sent to the Beyond Burger facility. The remaining 30% is sourced from the Northern United States which means it takes a shorter route and therefore has less greenhouse gas emissions. Coconut oil has a low environmental impact due to coconut not requiring pesticides and also in that coconuts are harvested by hand, but Beyond sources this component of their burger from Malaysia and Indonesia. Pea protein, expeller pressed canola oil, coconut oil, and water compose 98% of the burger patty. The other 2% is made up of ingredients that don’t pose a threat to the sustainability of this product. The most concerning of this 2% is beet juice extract colorant because in order to get 1 kg of beet juice extract, one must remove ~7.8 kg of water from 6-10 kg of raw beets. Since this is just one component of the 2%, I do not believe it to be relevant enough to compromise the burger’s integrity.
The Beyond Burger is a plant-based, non-GMO Project Verified, OK Kosher Certified, gluten-free meat alternative. It is made of water, pea protein, expeller pressed canola oil, coconut oil, and <2% other ingredients. Beyond Meat’s Los Angeles facility takes care of both product research and production. Once a recipe is formed in their lab, they source materials from their partners. The materials arrive at their facility and they go through some process to become a burger. There is very little information available about the industrial processes that Beyond Burgers go through to become a finished product. What can be found on their website is that they use “a simple process of heating, cooling, and pressure” to make their burgers as similar to meat as possible. These processes not only create a product that tastes like meat, but is significantly better for the planet than its beef counterpart. The reason for the 2.25/3 planets here is because of how little information is available on their processes, I am assuming that the lack of transparency is because this is an area they know they can improve in. A report from the University of Michigan found in “a comparative assessment of the current Beyond Burger production system with the 2017 beef LCA by Thoma et al, the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, has >99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of U.S. beef.”
Beyond Meat was founded in El Segundo, CA by Ethan Brown in 2009. In the early days of Beyond, CEO Ethan Brown reached out to University of Missouri professors Fu-hung Hsieh and Harold Huff to help him formulate the first Beyond meatless protein recipe based on the research they had been conducting at the University. After a few iterations of this recipe, Beyond products can be found in over 26,000 outlets around the world. They specialize in manufacturing vegan meats and have been able to do so by utilizing “cutting-edge tech” to analyze the structure of animal products in order to find plant-derived alternatives. Beyond meat has enjoyed very rapid growth since its founding, and now seeks to position itself as a key player in the global meat market by establishing factories in Europe and China. This way, Beyond can not only fuel the growing demand for sustainable alternatives but can also reduce the amount of miles traveled from factory to customer. According to Indeed, a workplace review website, Beyond Meat pays fairly, has a culturally diverse staff, and offers benefits & career advancement opportunities.