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Dear Mr. Impossible Foods CEO: Please Visit This Regenerative Ranch

It may be true that you can take the boy out of the country, but it’s apparently not so easy to get the CEO out of Silicon Valley.

In mid-June, Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, publicly invited Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, to visit Harris’ ranch in Bluffton, Georgia. The invitation was prompted by a statement Harris got wind of, in the latest Impossible Foods Impact Report, which facetiously referred to regenerative grazing as the “clean coal” of meat.

The company has also claimed that grassfed beef  “generates more GHGs than feedlot beef”—a claim that didn’t sit well with Harris, whose ranch in Bluffton, Georgia, stores “more carbon in the soil than our cows emit in a lifetime,” according to this blog post on his website. (For more on regenerative beef production at White Oak Pastures, watch this video produced by CNN).

Harris told a reporter for Civil Eats that he was “stunned” by the “clean coal” analogy. “I think there were many mistruths in that attack,” he said. Then he reiterated his invitation to Brown, through the reporter:

“Dr. Brown, please come see me. It’ll be an opportunity for both of us to adjust our worldviews.”

On June 13, Harris followed up his public invitiations with a personal email, which he shared with us, to Brown. The email read, in part:

While I respect your right to have your own corporate opinion, I am struck by the differences in our world view. After reading your piece, I began creating a detailed outline to explain our very different perceptions of what is true. But, we are so far apart that it was futile.

I have a much better idea. I am now inviting you to visit my farm to allow me to show you regenerative agriculture being practiced. I can only imagine how busy you are, but, based on yesterday's article, I am convinced that you and your company will benefit from a visit.

Brown’s executive assistant, Meghan Duff, responded by email, and she and Harris arranged for Brown and Harris to speak by phone, on Wednesday, July 10, 1 p.m. EDT. But two days before the scheduled call, Duff emailed Harris again to say that they’d need to reschedule the call. The next day, July 9, Brown emailed Harris:

Hi Will,

Very sorry for the delay.  I greatly value your time and I'm looking forward to our conversation, but my schedule is not entirely under my control. 



Harris emailed a lengthy response, in which he outlined some of the viewpoints he thinks the two men share. Then once again he extended an invitation to visit White Oak Pastures:

Clearly we will not be able to reconcile our wide gulf of understanding by speaking on the phone.  I have scientific research, supporting my position, that you might think of as "junk science". You have your research, and I would hold the same opinion of it.  The closest that we can come with research is the Quantis Carbon Footprint Evaluation that was done on your product and on mine. [These demonstrated that it takes 1 pound of my beef to reverse the carbon dioxide equivalent that is emitted by the production of 1 pound of your product.]

I propose, again, that you come to my farm and let me show you what we have been able to accomplish over the last 20+ years through our practice of regenerative land management.   I offer this invitation on behalf of White Oak Pastures, the membership of the American Grassfed Association, Savory Institute, and the American farmers and ranchers that are managing our land in a manner that is reversing climate change.

That was July 9. Harris hasn’t heard a peep from Brown or anyone else at Impossible Foods since.

Beef: to eat or not to eat?

In his last email to Brown, on July 9, Harris also wrote this:

The point on which we are diametrically opposed is our understanding of animal impact on our environment. I know, from my 40+ years of raising livestock, that utilizing proper animal impact is the only cost effective way to heal land that has been degraded by industrial farming practices.  

Conversely, here is a recent quote from your Chief Communications Officer, Ms. Rachel Konrad:  "We are happy about any company trying to eliminate the need for animals in agriculture," says Konrad. "They share our mission."  

The issue of whether or not to eliminate animals from agriculture is a hot topic these days. As an organization, Organic Consumers Association (OCA) respects the personal choice made by anyone who decides to eliminate meat and/or dairy from their diets. And we agree with health experts that we should all eat more plants, and less meat.

That said, we reject the notion that eliminating animals from agriculture is a climate solution.

We also suspect that profits, not “saving the planet,” is the primary goal of Impossible Foods. And we wholeheartedly reject the claims by Impossible Foods that its Impossible Burger, made from glyphostate-drenched GMO soy and containing GMO heme, is healthy for either the planet or consumers.

In an article published this week in The Telegraph, Patrick Holden, CEO of Sustainable Food Trust, warns that “jumping on the ‘all beef is bad’ bandwagon” is “hugely counterproductive.”

Holden writes:

In order to reverse the problems that have arisen from chemical-dependent crop monocultures, grass and livestock are having to be reintroduced as part of mixed arable systems. Grass is the great healer and, when grown with plants like clover, is the key to regenerative farming. Its extensive roots store atmospheric carbon deep within the soil, while its continual cover reduces chemical run-off, soil erosion and pollution. 

But, he makes the point, supported by OCA and many other organizations and scientists, that not all beef is created equal:

While free-range cattle are great for the environment, the same is not true of factory-farmed animals. These cows, which live enclosed in sheds, are typically fed on soya or cereals grown on intensively farmed land. This is deeply inefficient and contributes to deforestation.

In other words, it’s not the cow, but the how—a refrain often repeated by many who have studied and/or practiced regenerative agriculture, including Harris and Nicolette Hahn Niman, environmental lawyer, rancher and author of “Defending Beef.” 

Hahn was quoted this week in an article, “If We All Stopped Eating Beef, What Would Happen to the Land?” published on Medium by Popular Science.  Hahn told Popular Science that there’s an “enormous problem” with the U.S. food system, and how it impacts the environment. But, according to the article:

The problem comes from distilling the solution down to a single consumer action, instead of recognizing and fixing the broader system. That means repairing the relationship between purchasers and producers, adjusting feeding operations to be more humane, and literally getting down into the dirt.

The article concludes that “healthy soil is both a sign of sustainable practices and a contributor to a healthy food system.”

It’s hard to argue that the lab-grown GMO Impossible Burger, which relies on chemically grown GMO soy monocultures, contributes to healthy soil or a healthy food system.

Help stop Impossible Foods’ soil-destroying production practices

Whether or not you eat beef, or plant-based meat alternatives, it’s hard to justify the GMO soy monoculture production practices engaged in by Impossible Foods. Here are a few things you can do to keep the pressure on Impossible Foods.

1. Tell Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown: GMO Soy Is Bad for Consumers, Bad for the Planet

2. Tell the FDA: The Impossible Burger’s GMO Heme Should Be Safety-Tested!

3. Help Will Harris get Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown to visit his regenerative ranch. Download and print this invitation to Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown. Then attach the invitation to this comment form. Or mail it to: 

Mr. Pat Brown, CEO, Impossible Foods
400 Saginaw Drive
Redwood City, CA 94063

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.