OPINION: PETA's Attack On Impossible Foods Is A Double Standard

Are PETA's inconsistent criticisms doing more harm than good?
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I'm
confident most Plant Based News readers are well aware of the Impossible Burger - the
meat-like patty from Impossible Foods that has been taking the plant-based
industry by storm since its 2017 release.

With
progress, though, often comes controversy.

The
Impossible Burger is no exception to this rule.

Criticism

Some
have blasted its maker Impossible Foods for the use of animal testing during
the developmental phase - a process which most vegans would agree is
problematic.

However,
I would argue that the public reaction - and that of animal rights organization
PETA - represents a double standard, and may ultimately undermine the brand's
potential for progress.

Soy
leghemoglobin

The
animal testing in question - of an ingredient called soy leghemoglobin - was
conducted on rats, a requirement of what Impossible Foods has called a 'cruel
food system'.

Impossible
Foods Founder Dr. Pat O'Brown, who has been vegan for around 15 years, says it
was an agonizing decision - but he also felt that it was the right course of
action to benefit animals and the environment.

Unsurprisingly,
the decision to go ahead with the tests prompted significant backlash from PETA.

Impossible Foods on New Scientist

?The Impossible Burger recently appeared on the cover of New Scientist (Photo: PBN)

Mixed
messages

The
response from the animal rights organization, while on-brand, may not be
entirely appropriate. At least, Impossible Foods doesn't seem to think it is.

An
Impossible Foods spokesman said: "It is astounding that PETA, which claims to
champion animal welfare, would demonize us solely because of a rat test that we
did not wish to perform, that US food safety regulators requested, and that we
performed in consultation with PETA management itself."

Double
standard

As
I'm sure you can guess, I myself am against animal testing - and not sure what
I'd do in the same situation, given my personal views on the matter.

However,
I find the controversy that's sprung up around Impossible Foods' decision both problematic
and inconsistent - for a number of reasons.

Too many people
aren't aware that a lot of vegan products contain, for example, xanthum gum,
which has been tested on animals many times over.

So
why does PETA endorse the use of products that contain it? The point is that there
are double standards here - and they don't stop at single-ingredient testing.

Inconsistent criticism

While the charity has called out Impossible Foods for animal testing during its R&D process, it has championed other companies which have also contributed to animal exploitation in a bid to replace factory farmed meat.

A clear example of this can be seen in PETA's support of clean (aka lab cultured) meat. While the product isn't vegan, if it becomes widely available, it has the potential to save many animals' lives. To quote PETA itself: "PETA has been investing in in vitro research for the past six years, because we believe it’s the first important step toward realizing the dream of one day putting environmentally sound, humanely produced real meat into the hands and mouths of the people who insist on eating animal flesh."

But researchers and scientists have spoken openly about consuming animal flesh to help craft more authentic lab-grown versions, looking at the bigger picture and the animals that could be saved in the future. A very similar argument, you could say, to Impossible Foods.

Impossible Burger Controversy

The Impossible Burger has been added to the menu at several major restaurant chains (Photo: Instagram)

Nuance

So while
I'm not personally in favor of animal testing, or supporting the meat industry
in any context, the situation is more nuanced than the critics make it out to
be.

Being
opposed to all of the above circumstances, especially as a vegan, is a
perfectly acceptable stance to take - and the way to act accordingly, I
suppose, would be to not buy products with questionable chemicals in them at
all.

However,
berating one company - which has the potential to enact major change - while
cutting others slack for partaking in similar practices simply doesn't make any
sense.

The
best approach

The
bottom line here is that we all need to step back and work out what the goal is
- and how best to approach it.

If
we want the current food industry to be disrupted, then we have to ask
ourselves whether moaning about Impossible Foods is a productive or logical
use of our time.

It's
important that we use this debacle as a jump-off point for this important conversation.

With
Impossible Foods' massive commercial success, the brand is uniquely positioned
to put an end to animal agriculture - more so than any other charity or
individual, in my opinion.

They
made a difficult, and certainly questionable, decision - but what we have to
ask ourselves now is what will most serve animals and the environment going
forward.

PETA

PETA contacted Plant Based News in response to this opinion piece and sent this statement: "PETA recognizes that ingredients have been tested on animals in the past. That's something that can't be changed, but we work each day with companies to eliminate testing on animals and other cruelties, and those companies’ actions earn PETA's praise. 

"Impossible Foods is a 'vegan' company whose stated goal is to spare animals, yet it killed 188 animals in tests that it did not need to conduct. 

"The company still has not pledged to stop testing on animals. By contrast, companies like Beyond Burger make a superior product and never have and never will test on animals, so our support goes to it and other companies like it."

Testing

PETA's spokesperson added: "Impossible Foods in no way performed tests on animals 'in consultation with PETA'. A PETA staff member in our Laboratory Investigations Department was asked specifically how to choose the least harmful animal laboratory, and she answered this question, but then urged Impossible to talk with our scientists who have expertise in non-animal methods. 

"Our scientists then advised Impossible not to test on animals and offered to help both before and after it conducted the first test. We could have advised it on the use of non-animal tests, but the company went on to do two more tests and killed 188 animals. 

"None of these tests were required by law. There are many vegan burgers that come from companies that do not, have not, and will never test on animals."

*This article was updated on August 24 to reflect PETA's response.