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For the last year or so you haven’t been able to avoid coming across articles on fake meat. The issue of fake anything, especially when it comes to feeding our families, is obviously sensitive.

I believe we should make sure this product is labeled in a manner that will leave no doubt as to what it is, and more importantly, what it is not. I am not afraid to be somewhat arrogant and have no doubt the hardworking families that make up the cattle business put the best protein product that God or man can make on the plates of consumers worldwide. The cattlemen of the United States raise this product better than anybody else. We have almost half the number of cattle as Brazil but produce over 20 percent more beef. According to the Beef Its What’s For Dinner website, as little as a three-ounce serving of beef provides 25 grams or almost 50 percent of your daily protein value. A major example of alternative proteins are protein bars, which, according to their labels, have adequate amounts of protein. However, one key ingredient many lack is riboflavin, which is required to help your body utilize protein. Have no doubt, meat naturally contains riboflavin for nutrient absorption. The balance of good and bad cholesterols within beef amazes me as well. It has been proven that beef can actually help lower your cholesterol. The product we raise was not an experiment but brought to us through years of ranchers looking for what their customers want, and Mother Nature knowing what they need. I am sure a petri dish can get something close to what we have, but I doubt these products can ever match what we already have. This is truly a case of science trying to create a product that nature previously perfected.

Many things must be asked about lab-grown protein. First of all, is it healthy? Many of us remember the NutraSweet craze in the 1980’s. We were told how much better for us than sugar it was only to find out those claims were not true. We also recall the margarine/butter debate, and we now know that the fat derived from animals is far better for us than fat made in a lab.

Is fake meat safe? I know that our beef is safe. Just some weeks ago 6.5 million pounds of beef was recalled and taken off the shelves immediately when the USDA found salmonella within it. The swiftness of our system to ensure that no Americans get sick from these products is amazing. We also know that even if someone had purchased one of these packages, through proper cooking techniques, the chances of suffering ill consequences would be minimal. Whether a lab-grown product will have no chance of causing infection is still unknown. Also unknown is whether this product will become another aspartame. There are still more questions than answers about fake beef, and there is nothing we should assume about these products or the risks associated with them.

What we do know is that some people are asking for a meat alternative. They do not seek it because of a tricky label but because they feel it is better or is better for them, or any of various considerations that motivate consumers. History has proved that there is no substitute that compares in safety and health to having animal protein in our diets. Regardless of what this stuff is called, and whether it is derived from soy, cells, chemicals, or a combination of all, we must make sure consumers know what they are buying. Most importantly, we must make sure consumers want to buy our product and know that the hardworking farmers and ranchers, with a little help from Mother Nature, provide a product that cannot be duplicated.

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Gary Deering is president of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.

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