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Since it was introduced in 2016, the Impossible Burger has made waves.

At least four local restaurants serve the plant-based hamburger, including both Black Dog restaurants, Dancing Dog Eatery in Urbana and D.P. Dough in Champaign.

At Black Dog, co-owner Mike Cochran said it still makes up a small percentage of sales because "we sell a lot of meat."

But he said it's popular.

"We have people that come from all over for it," especially early on when the Impossible Burger was available only in limited markets, Cochran said.

He said he's not sure if the Impossible Burger and products like it will disrupt the meat market.

"It's hard to say, as far as people's tastes," Cochran said. "For people who are vegetarian and vegan, we're really happy to have it."

At the calzone shop D.P. Dough, general manager Derek Schultz said the Impossible Burger is becoming more popular.

"A lot of the websites, if you search for vegan, there's just a few choices," he said. So having the vegan tag "is pretty amazing."

Like Black Dog, D.P. Dough is adding the 2.0 version of the Impossible Burger meat.

"It's even better. It looks and cooks just like meat. It goes bad just like raw meat," Schultz said. "We're definitely happy to be a part of it."

And at the vegan Dancing Dog Eatery, manager Alex Heald-Alejo said the Impossible Burger is "really popular."

"I told the owners once I heard about it that we just had to get it," she said. "It's a great way to get people who have had negative impressions of vegan food to get them to try something and not feel like they're missing out."

She hopes the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Meat products available at local grocery stores will "bring vegan-meat substitutes out of the woodwork."

At the fourth annual AgTech Summit hosted recently by the University of Illinois Research Park, animal health and nutrition experts said it's an open question whether products like this become mainstream.

Rod Johnson, head of UI's Animal Sciences Department, asked the animal health and nutrition panel about "plant-based protein sources."

Ryan Lane, the vice president for animal nutrition and biotechnology research at Archer Daniels Midland, said "the verdict is still out."

"ADM has been displacing meat products for decades," he said. "There are different programs in the Midwest that have been involved in that, and then as you move away from the United States, the need to extend meat products becomes even more important."

As for "cultured meat," Lane said, "I do follow the Impossible Burger a lot."

Whether it becomes mainstream is "more of a strategic marketing question," he said.

He also said cultured meats could have a higher risk of becoming contaminated while they ferment.

"There is a long road for them to go in terms of making sure that's a sustainable business proposition," Lane said.

Bruce Taillon, director of external innovation for the animal health pharmaceutical company Elanco, expressed similar concerns.

"You're probably going to need antibiotics or something like that to keep them clean, so now you're not reducing antibiotics, you're increasing antibiotics," he said. "It's a situation where it's a noble cause, and it could run me out of a job. But I'm concerned that all we're doing is ... pushing on one side of the balloon, which is just going to cause the air to move someplace else."

Impossible says its 2.0 Burger contains no antibiotics.

Lena Head, site manager of the agricultural equipment company AGCO's Research Park office, said the company is "cognizant of" the impact meatless meats could have.

"We've actually done an extensive amount of market research on this topic," she said. "It's tough to see where the industry is going to go. It's definitely there, in making itself known. And it's something that even as a manufacturer of equipment we're cognizant of because it could potentially impact the buyers of our equipment."

But she questioned whether the vast majority of the world will be able to afford the cultured meats.

"If there's only a third of the population that is food secure, I think the two-thirds that are not food secure are just more concerned about getting their hands on whatever protein they can. And so I just think it's going into more of the privileged eaters, if you will, that are more privy to this sort of technology."

At the beginning of the panel, Johnson said that feeding a growing population "is the big challenge of our time."

"We're talking about having to feed 10 billion people by the year 2050," he said.

Besides the population growth, Johnson said, "there's more people than ever moving from poverty into the middle class. This is important for animal sciences because when people have more disposable incomes, they choose to spend their money differently when they're thinking about their diet."

With more money, people tend to eat less grain and "more protein of animal origin," Johnson said. "So the demand for animal protein is expected to double in the next 30, 40 to 50 years."

"We have to be engaged in innovating and developing high-tech solutions that are going to allow farmers to feed the world. But it's not just produce, produce, produce," he said. "We have to do so in a manner that's ecologically sustainable and socially acceptable. More than ever today, people care about how their food is produced."

For its part, the Animal Sciences Department plans to offer a joint degree with the Computer Science Department, and it has also participated in a cluster hire on food insecurity in the College of ACES.