In 2021, more than 600,000 animals were saved from the food system in the United States as a result of prominent fast-food chains offering plant-based options. According to estimates from animal-rights organization World Animal Protection (WAP), approximately 211,000 pigs, 77,000 cows, and 350,000 chickens were spared last year because of the rise in plant-based offerings from brands Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods at major fast-food restaurants.
Following the introduction of plant-based burgers at some fast-food restaurants in 2019 and 2020, plant-based offerings took center stage again last year with back-to-back launches of plant-based chicken from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Beyond Chicken Tenders first debuted at nearly 400 restaurants, including traditional wing shops, pubs, and pizzerias, and has since expanded to the menus at more than two dozen fast-food chains across the country, including an expanded offering of Beyond The Original Orange Chicken at Panda Express and Beyond Fried Chicken at KFC. Then Impossible Chicken Nuggets were trialed at select locations of Burger King, which has offered the Impossible Whopper since 2019, and is now available at several other restaurants nationwide.
In order to calculate the animal impact of these new offerings, WAP estimated the number of plant-based items sold at major fast-food chains by using data from Carl’s Jr., which indicated that the company had consistently sold 30 Beyond burgers every day since launching the item in 2019. WAP applied the same sales rate to all companies it assessed. WAP also assumed that stores are open 360 days a year and that people are likely not eating more food because of the new plant-based items, but rather they are swapping out the meat for the Beyond or Impossible menu option.
Vegan fast food saved 1 million animals
The actual number of animals spared is likely much higher, since WAP’s assessment doesn’t account for the full plant-based product market such as those sold in grocery stores, menu items that feature other plant-based brands or those made in-house, or Beyond and Impossible products offered at other types of restaurants.
For example, in 2021 alone, Impossible Foods went from selling its products in only 150 stores to 20,000 grocery stores. Additionally, Taco Bell tested its proprietary plant-based beef blend at select locations, and Little Caesars opted for Field Roast pepperoni for its new Planteroni pizza trial at hundreds of locations.
“It’s fair to say that the true impact to animals from the growing plant-based meat market was likely more than a million animals saved,” WAP said on its website. However, the organization also points out that while that number may seem significant, it’s a small fraction of the 9.5 billion animals raised and killed for food in the US each year.
This year has also seen an equally impressive expansion of plant-based offerings in more fast-food restaurants, which means in the years to come an increased number of animals’ lives will be saved from the food system. Last month alone, Chipotle made its homemade plant-based chorizo available at all of its more than 2,700 locations nationwide, KFC expanded its Beyond Fried Chicken nationwide for a limited time, and Panda Express expanded its partnership with Beyond Meat with a test launch of two more dishes made with Beyond’s vegan beef.
For more about vegan fast food, read:
The Ultimate Guide to the Top 15 Vegan Fast-Food Chains in the US
The Vegan Guide to Eating Plant-Based at Burger King
9 Vegan Hacks For Your Favorite Fast-Food Joints