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The Most Important Force in Food Has Nothing to Do With Fake Meat

Billions in venture funding for alternatives hasn’t kept meat consumption from rising. Humane treatment of workers and animals has more disruptive potential than faux nuggets.

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Illustration: Patrik Mollwing for Bloomberg Businessweek

Investors have poured an estimated $8 billion into meat and dairy alternatives in the past two years, yet Americans are slaughtering, consuming, and exporting more meat than ever. While “bleeding” pea burgers and chicken-flavored mushroom nuggets can be great, the meat industry’s treatment of its animals and employees and its impact on global health and climate change face too little oversight from overstretched or underempowered government agencies. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine further stressing pandemic-addled supply chains around the world, the most disruptive new food technology just might be bolder regulation. Here’s a starter to-do list for the US, a blueprint that could be worth adapting elsewhere, too.

① Wean animals off antibiotics
About two-thirds of the medically important drugs sold in the US go to animals, typically to keep livestock healthy in the brutal factory farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. The overuse of these drugs contributes to the deadly threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the Food and Drug Administration should take steps to end it. The FDA could outlaw routine use of antibiotics for livestock. To enforce this, regular testing for antibiotic residue would have to be conducted at farms and meat processing plants. (A study published in Science in April showed that beef labeled “free of antibiotics” often wasn’t.)