Meat-free Sausages and Burgers

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 32 brands of meat alternatives.

We also look at soya's link to deforestation in Brazil, palm oil, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Beyond Meat and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying meat-free products:

  • Is it low salt? Find lower salt versions if you are worried about your salt intake.

  • Is it homemade? Veggie bean burgers are easy to make at home, and may have fewer ethical implications than an ingredient like soya that has been linked to issues like deforestation and GMOs.

  • Is it vegan? Veggie sausages and burgers may still contain dairy or other animal products, which may have been produced through factory farming and lead to high emissions. Opt for vegan to reduce your carbon footprint and protect animal rights.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying meat substitutes:

  • Does it contain GMOs? Genetically modified seeds and crops bind growers to powerful multinationals producing agricultural chemicals. These companies have been criticised for seriously exploiting small-scale farmers. Look for organic to be sure that you are avoiding GMOs, particularly for soya-based products.

  • Is the company making meat products? Choosing a vegan or veggie product may be easier than finding a vegan or veggie company. If you want to make sure that you are not funding meat or dairy production at all, opt for a vegan or veggie company.

  • Does it contain Brazilian soya? At the moment, it is best to avoid Brazilian soya if possible, as there is a major danger that it will be encouraging deforestation.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

The number of UK vegans has quadrupled in the last four years. Recent surveys suggest that about 1.2 million people in the UK are now vegetarian, around half of these are vegan, and one in three are trying to reduce their meat consumption.

Although it is hard to get reliable figures for many countries, this does not appear to be just a UK phenomenon. The European meat alternatives market grew by 451% in the four years to February 2018. The US meat alternatives market grew by 8.1% in the 12 months to August 2017, compared to 0.2% growth for all foods.

Image: Beyond Meat
Beyond Meat burger

In an effort to feed this hungry rabble, many new brands have leapt onto the scene. We couldn’t cover all of them, so we’ve tried to cover those that are more widely available, and some which sell interesting new fake meats including jackfruit and pea protein. 

Sainsbury’s has recently started placing meat alternatives in the meat section. Some vegans are pleased as they think that it may encourage switching, although the evidence isn’t in. 

Main headlines from our research into meat alternatives

Soya sustainability

Rating soya sustainability is difficult. However, given how dangerous Bolsonaro is making the situation look at the moment, we decided to give a Product Sustainability mark ([S] on the table above) to any product that is non-soya based, or made by a company that states that it sources its soya from outside Brazil, and to only make companies Best Buys or Recommended buys if they got this mark. 

Table: soya sustainability deforestation table ethical consumer meat free alternatives

See our feature 'Is Soya Sustainable?' for more information on soya and deforestation. 

Palm oil 

All those who got our best rating for palm oil are palm oil-free. They either state it, or list the ingredients of their products on their websites, allowing us to check for any palm oil or anything that looked like a palm derivative. 

No supermarkets are palm oil-free, although Iceland is working towards it with regard to their own-brand products. 

Tax avoidance

Many of the companies in this area are too small to have subsidiaries in tax havens.

However, the following companies were given our worst rating for likely use of tax-avoidance strategies: Hain Celestial (Linda McCartney), Nestlé (Tivall), Unilever (the Vegetarian Butcher), Beyond Meat, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl, Waitrose, Morrisons and Marks and Spencer. 

The following got our middle rating: Iceland (No Bull) and Aldi. 

Vegan and vegetarian companies

The following companies get a positive Company Ethos mark for being entirely vegan: Taifun, Tofurky, Upton Naturals, VBites, Dragonfly, Beyond Meat and Fry’s.

The following are entirely vegetarian, and so avoid getting marked down for selling meat: Vivera, Wicken Fen, and Sojade.

Vegan brands

Vegan brands are marked with [Vg] on the score table above. Those that are marketed as vegan get an extra half mark in the Product Sustainability column whilst those certified as vegan by the Vegan Society get an extra whole mark.

What are meat alternatives made of?

Gone are the drab days when nearly all veggie burgers were made of soya. 

Seitan

With the explosion in gluten-free foods and gluten-free restaurants, some people have commented that gluten is starting to be thought of as Satan. But this is wrong: gluten is not Satan, gluten is seitan. 

Seitan is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving just the protein. Seitan-based products can be bought from Upton’s Naturals and Sojade. 
Nutritionally, the drawback with seitan is that the protein isn’t ‘complete’ – it doesn’t contain the full range of essential amino acids.

Lupin beans

Lupin or lupine beans are sometimes called the ‘soya bean of the north’. They contain a similar amount of protein to soya, with the full range of essential amino acids. But, unlike soya, they grow in cool climates. Vivera and the Vegetarian Butcher both make some meat-free products out of lupin beans. 

Jackfruit

Jackfruit are a new big thing in meat substitutes. They are enormous fruit that grow on trees in India and surrounding regions. They contain very little protein, so they aren’t really nutritionally a meat substitute, but when they are unripe they have a chewy texture that is somewhat like pulled pork, and they absorb flavour very well. Jackfruit-based meat substitutes can be bought from Upton’s Naturals. 

Image: Jackfruit
Jackfruit

Jackfruit has fans in scientific institutions who call it “miracle fruit”, “drought resistant”, and other terms of endearment.  

Mycoprotein

Mycoprotein means ‘protein from fungi’. It is the basis of Quorn, which is a type of soil mould that is grown in fermentation vats. It was invented deliberately in a drive to find new proteins to feed the world’s growing population in the mid-eighties. 

Although the patent on it has now expired, Quorn is still the only company that makes it. 

Other ingredients 

The Beyond Burger is made from protein extracted from peas, dyed red with beetroot. The beetroot makes it ‘bleed’ somewhat like meat, which has been talked about a lot in the press, although the company says that that wasn’t deliberate.  

Goodlife’s burgers are made from other beans, and vegetables. 

The environmental impact of soya vs meat

If choosing between meat and soya, it is important to keep the environmental impacts of soya in perspective. Analyses nearly always suggest that meat is substantially worse in environmental terms than the alternatives. 

Furthermore, not eating soya does not mean that you are not eating soya. Per 100 grams, animal products contain the following amounts of embedded soya, from the soya used in feed:

  • Chicken – about 109 grams (more than the weight of the actual meat) 
  • Farmed salmon – about 60 grams.
  • Eggs – about 64 grams 
  • Pork or beef – about 50 grams
  • Cheese – about 25 grams
  • It wasn’t possible to find figures for sheep, although they may also be fed soya. 

Climate impacts of meat and meat alternatives:

  Kg CO2 eq per kg product
Beef 9-129
Pork 4-11
Chicken 2-6
Quorn 2-6
Soya 1-2

These figures are best estimates based on a review of all of the life-cycle assessments out there. The huge variation in the figures is because it depends how production is done. 

One study by Center for Industrial Ecology, Department of Mechanical Engineering suggested that, if deforestation happens for soya, the numbers can be significantly higher – its estimates were 0.1 kg CO2 eq/kg if soya is produced sustainably, to 16.5 kg CO2 eq/ kg if produced on deforested land in the Amazon. However, the overall consensus is that meat, particularly red meat, should be assumed to be worse for the climate. 

Too much salt in processed meat alternatives

Action on Salt has raised concerns about the amount of salt in some meat substitutes. 

It surveyed meat-free products in 2018 and found that 28% had missed the voluntary maximum salt target set by Public Health England for the end of 2017. It also found that meat-free burgers on average contain somewhat more salt than meat burgers (0.89g per serving v 0.75g per serving). 

There is, however, a wide variation in the products. Two of the saltiest were Tofurky’s Hickory Smoked Deli Slices and Tesco’s Meat Free Bacon Style Rashers, with 3.5 and 3.2 grams per 100g respectively. In comparison, Quorn vegetarian ham and bacon only contained 0.9g and 1.2g per 100g. And Tesco meat-free mince only contains 0.2g/100grams. 

Action on Salt also point out that 20% of products have no front of pack colour-coded labelling, including Linda McCartney’s entire product range.

If you are concerned about your salt intake, it is worth checking the full list from Action on Salt to get an idea of what products to look for. 
 

Company Behind the Brand

Beyond Meat is a US company that has got a lot of publicity for its ‘bleeding’ veggie burgers which are supposed to taste convincingly like meat. It is vegan, and palm oil- and GM-free. In 2016, Tyson Foods, the biggest American meat company, invested a 5% stake in the company. It gets our worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies as it is registered in Delaware, which we consider a tax haven, but has its correspondence address in California. 

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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