Meat-Eating Agriculture Secretary Tries the Impossible Burger

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue tried the Impossible Burger while touring Impossible Foods. ( Burger King )

(Bloomberg) -- Sonny Perdue may be a champion of agriculture and agribusinesses in all its forms. But even he isn’t immune to the lure of the vegan Impossible Burger.

On Thursday, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture visited the startup’s headquarters in Redwood City, California, where staff cooked up an Impossible Burger for him. He said it tasted “very good,” and that it was a “good facsimile” of real beef.

Impossible Foods is a virulent critic of the beef industry, and its executives have said their goal is to eliminate cow meat as a significant part of the food system. The company says its burgers use 87% less water, 96% less land and emit 89% fewer greenhouse gases than beef from cows.

Perdue said he didn’t agree that beef was bad for the environment. When asked about its environmental footprint, he said, “I think I’m a meat eater.” The Secretary praised the company’s innovation, and said it could help soybean farmers, since the vegan burger contains the oilseed.

Impossible Chief Executive Officer Pat Brown has criticized ground beef for containing fecal bacteria and having negative health consequences. The Impossible Burger has made inroads. It is offered at thousands of restaurants in the U.S., including fast-food stalwarts like White Castle and Burger King.

The North American Meat Institute said it was pleased to see Perdue visiting an alternative protein facility.

“He is a veterinarian who has long understood consumers benefit from a variety of protein products in the marketplace, including meat which has environmental, nutritional and economic benefits,” said Sarah Little, vice president of communications at the institute.

As Perdue walked away from the press gaggle, he could be heard talking to Brown, who told him he agreed that ultimately “the consumer is right” and that it’s up to producers to win them over.

“I know there’s some anxiety out there,” Perdue said. But “the main answer is the labeling question - consumers ought to know what it is and where it came from.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Brown said.

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