Thinly sliced: Taco Bell plans to launch meat-free menu free of trendy, plant-based meat

This is the web version of a list we publish twice-weekly in our newsletter. It comprises the most noteworthy food stories of the moment, selected by our editors. Get it first here.

See no evil. For decades, USDA researchers have studied how climate change affects our food supply. Often, they’ve found, it’s for the worse. Crops are getting less nutritious. Feed is losing protein. Farm runoff is increasing. And so on. Their work continues under President Trump, but in a radical departure from past administrations, the department has stopped promoting their findings. And in one particularly galling case, USDA actively tried to bury a study, according to a bombshell report by Helena Bottemiller Evich at Politico. “If you’re taking a certain block of research and not communicating it, it defeats the purpose of why USDA does the research in the first place,” a former administrator says. Democrats have already criticized USDA over the revelations.

Sin carne. Taco Bell is planning a meatless menu that’s—wait for it—just vegetables and cheese. Throwback! A company executive told CNBC it had considered jumping on the plant-based bandwagon, but unlike fellow corporate taqueros Qdoba and Del Taco, ultimately decided against adding meat substitutes to their menus. Maybe that’s because those who live más aren’t flexitarians but honest-to-goodness vegetarians. Nine percent of all Taco Bell orders are already meat-free, and a cheesy, gooey vegetarian bean burrito is its second-best-selling item. (Also, you may recall that Taco Bell was sued after consumer groups found its beef was not entirely beef.)

Don’t have two cows. There are 9 million Holstein cows in the United States, and together, they produce nearly all of the country’s dairy products. But among this population, scientists have recently discovered, just two Y chromosomes are represented. This means that almost all the country’s dairy cows are descendents of just two bulls. On the plus side, the two chosen ones (né Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation and Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief) have demonstrated a history of impressive production capacities—which keeps milk output high and efficient. But the lack of biodiversity also has its drawbacks. What happens if problematic recessive genes manifest over time? Or if a disease to which these cows are vulnerable begins to threaten the entire population? Undark outlines the potential consequences—and possible solutions—here.

Break it up! The country’s biggest chicken companies, and the secretive service they allegedly use to fix prices, could be facing criminal indictments. That’s according to Leah Douglas, who reports for FERN News that the Department of Justice has intervened in a landmark class-action lawsuit, with possible indictments coming soon. The defendants are Koch Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms, Perdue Farms, and other meat producers that control 90 percent of America’s poultry sector. For the past decade, the lawsuit alleges, the chicken industry has been setting prices artificially high, with the excess costs absorbed by retailers and shoppers.

I, Fry Cook. There’s an air of the inevitable to this: McDonald’s is testing out robot fryers and voice-activated drive-thrus at select locations. As we’ve been chronicling dutifully in recent months, robots are creeping into food sectors like strawberry pickingweeding, and supermarket safety. (Journalism, too, but we ain’t scared!) The Wall Street Journal has the scoop on McDonalds’ robo-plans. (In other news: McD’s pesky human workers are generally dissatisfied!)

The Counter Stories by our editors.