A trade war has hurt the pea market; plant-based foods are picking up some of the slack.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated December 19, 2019

Two of the primary reasons plant-based meats have forged a growing niche in the market are their relatively uncanny replication of the beef burger-eating experience and a greater awareness of the environmental and ethical concerns surrounding livestock production. In theory, reducing our meat consumption will eventually lower the number of factory farms. At the same time, though, plant-based products aren't made out of thin air: Other farmers have to grow these plants, and unsurprisingly, the plant-based boom has been good for business—at a time when business otherwise may not be so hot.

Pea producers have been facing a rough year, according to CNBC. The business site explains that "most" American-grown peas are exported, primarily to China and India, but Trump's trade war has made shipping peas to China less lucrative ever since the Chinese government retaliated with a 35 percent tariff, and India has added its own 50 percent tariff in an attempt to bolster its own farmers. As a result, exports are down, despite production being up, leading to a 20-year low in prices.

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However, CNBC also reports that 327 new pea protein-based products launched in the U.S. in 2019—up from just 11 products a decade ago—meaning the plant-based trend is one of the few bright spots in what could have otherwise been an even bigger disaster. Granted, Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council, told the site that the uptick in domestic demand for meat substitutes wasn't enough to make up for the "about 300,000 metric tons" in lost demand from China and India. And farmers also worry that plant-based diets may be a fad instead of a long-term trend. Still, for now, big names like Cargill and Beyond Meat are dumping millions into the pea market.

And yet, strictly looking at the current bottom line, apparently all the plant-based burger sales in the world wouldn't be as helpful as an end to the trade war. "There's been very strong support for the President in rural areas of the U.S. and our growing region," McGreevy told CNBC. "They understand that there's been some unfair play by some of our trading partners, and they're just hoping that the trade wars end soon, and that they're successful."