Science and agriculture are making headway toward replacing beef, which can be a good thing or a catastrophe.

If done over time – in a way that recognizes the livelihoods of cattle ranchers, and everyone in the processing and distribution chains, would be affected by ending beef as a major food source – then the effect on society could be enormous and beneficial.

Until a few years ago, companies that offered vegetable substitutes for beef could make a product that resembled and cooked like a hamburger, but fell far short on texture and taste. The word “disgusting” said a mouthful.

The Burger King Impossible Whopper is a game-changer. The patty is entirely plant-based. But many people cannot tell the regular from the plant burger, except in terms of price – the fake costs a few cents more, though that difference may change as demand rises.

Making a plant product taste like a burger is a long way from making processed plants taste like filet mignon cooked rare on a grill. But the Impossible Burger is a step in that direction.

Some vegans, or investors in meat substitutes, may hope to jump straight ahead to a meatless society. Doing so would be premature, a huge mistake and not something to cheer from a humanitarian perspective.

Jobs depend on beef sales. The meat and poultry industry broadly are responsible for 5.4 million jobs and $257 billion in wages, the North American Meat Institute reported. An estimated 527,019 people have jobs in production and packing, importing operations, sales, packaging and direct distribution of meat and poultry products. Add to that the number of people who rely on fast-food sales for employment and the number climbs into the millions.

A gradual change from a heavy reliance on beef, a change lasting a couple of decades, would beat a stampede to plant burgers.

But a gradual change may be for the best, based on reporting by The Hill. The world’s population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion people by 2050, with a projected 70 percent increase in demand for animal food products. Also, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change discussed the future climate impact of the agriculture industry, finding international dangers ahead unless there is a shift in how the world produces food, all of which boils down to the suggestion that people eat less meat.

As reported in The Lancet, reducing reliance on meat could curtail climate change-inducing gases and clear space for more land to feed the world’s growing population.

The Impossible Whopper notwithstanding, Americans will continue for years to come to chow down on beef rather than veggie burgers. But as time passes, more substitutes will enter the market, and as long as the transition time is reasonable, society may be better off as a result of the change.

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