The battle to define ‘real’ meat and food products


By Sara Wyant, High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal 

Apr 15, 2019


Should a plant-based food product that’s developed to look and taste like a hamburger actually be labeled as meat? How about a food product that’s been developed in a lab from animal cells?


Those are some of the questions that lawmakers in at least 17 states across the West, Plains and South are considering, primarily in response to folks who raise cattle, pork and poultry. These farmers and ranchers maintain that, unless it’s from a slaughter plant, these products are “fake” and “misbranded.” But some plant-based advocates are challenging these new laws in court.


Missouri got the ball rolling a year ago when it banned the term “meat” from any products not from slaughtered animals. That law is still tied up in federal court, challenged on constitutional grounds, as state officials and plant-based meat makers negotiate a solution tolerable to both the state’s livestock producers and those wanting to sell alternative meats.


But Missouri’s action helped prompt efforts in at least 16 other state legislatures this year to prevent cultured and plant-based meats from being labeled as meat.


To date, governors have signed such new laws in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Montana may soon follow suit.


The Montana legislative proposal would also outlaw the use of “hamburger” and “ground beef” on meat alternative products. The Montana Legislature recently sent its version, the Real Meat Act, to the governor for an expected signature. Bills in Georgia, Nebraska, Oklahoma and other states also appear to be viable.


Nebraska legislators stripped their bill’s specific targets—“selling insect-based, a plant-based, or a lab-grown food product as meat”—from the bill as introduced and just made any such products subject to “any provision of the Nebraska Pure Food Act relating to the labeling, packing or packaging, or advertising of food.”


Ansley Mick, director of state governmental relations for the Nebraska Farm Bureau, said despite the rewrite, “the intent was consumer protection,” and “the ag groups in Nebraska generally support what (the sponsor, Sen. Carol Blood) is trying to do.”


Looking broadly at the state legislative proposals, “most of the proponents of these bills are very concerned about the livestock industry in their states,” says Jessica Almy, director of policy for the Good Food Institute, which promotes alternative meat products and is a principal opponent of the Missouri bill. The authors have advanced the bills “as a way of protecting ranchers” and livestock farms, she says.


However, Almy says, “I think the states are really choosing a (legally) perilous path forward” with the label restriction bills. She points to the six meat labeling laws passed so far as copycats of the Missouri law and that law’s holdup in court. “It should put states on notice that there are significant constitutional problems with these laws,” she said.


Almy says labeling is an established form of “commercial speech, (which) is protected as long as it’s truthful. There is no evidence that the government has a problem to fix,” she says, since consumers know and recognize veggie meat products on the shelf, and cultured meats aren’t even on the market yet. “Without a problem to fix, the government doesn’t have a right under the constitution to censor labels,” she says.


Plus, she points to the recent declaration by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to jointly regulate cultured meats...