Farm states are taking action to help protect their livestock and meat industries against the rise of fake meat products. Nebraska lawmakers will consider a bill this year that would make it a crime to advertise or sell any product “as meat that is not derived from poultry or livestock.”
Last year Missouri became the first state to regulate the term “meat” on product labels, action that has already spurred a lawsuit that will likely be a drawn-out battle between traditional meat groups and alternative meat producers.
Lawmakers in Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming are also considering bills aimed at meat alternatives. The debate centers on what alternative protein products should be allowed to be named. Livestock producers oppose allowing those alternative products to be named “meat.”
In Missouri, Turtle Island Foods, which manufactures Tofurky, and the Good Food Institute, have filed for a preliminary injunction with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to prevent the state from enforcing its new law while the case is ongoing. The law went into effect Jan. 1, prohibiting the use of the term “meat” for any product not harvested from livestock. Lawyers for both sides have petitioned for extensions to respond to previous filings, and the court schedule includes a deadline of May 31 for discovery, and a deadline for all motions including those for summary judgement of June 28, 2019.
In Nebraska, lawmakers will consider defining meat as “any edible portion of any livestock or poultry, carcass or part thereof” and excluding “lab-grown or insect or plant-based food products.” Supporters of alternative proteins often use the term “clean meat” to promote their products, language livestock groups strongly oppose.
The issue strikes a particularly strong chord in Nebraska, one of the nation’s top states for livestock production, where cars roll down the interstate with “Beef State” license plates and the governor each year proclaims May as “Beef Month.”
Farm groups have found an unusual ally in state Sen. Carol Blood, a city-dwelling vegetarian from the Omaha suburb of Bellevue. Blood, who grew up on a farm, said she introduced the measure because agriculture is Nebraska’s largest industry and needs to be protected for the good of the whole state.
“I’m not bringing this bill to tell people what they can and can’t eat,” she said. “All I’m asking for is truth in advertising. It’s clear that meat comes from livestock, and livestock is our livelihood in Nebraska.”
Nebraska led the nation in commercial red meat production in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Livestock and livestock product sales generated an estimated $12.1 billion for the state’s economy in 2016.
The measure is certain to face resistance from food producers that sell plant-based alternatives, as well as those working to bring lab-grown meat to market. Critics say the bill infringes on the free-speech rights of companies that produce vegetarian alternatives to real meat.
The Nebraska bill “would censor food labels and create consumer confusion where there is none,” said Jessica Almy, director of policy for the Washington-based Good Food Institute. “You can’t censor speech just to promote one industry’s financial success.”
Supporters of the Nebraska measure say they want to ensure people aren’t misled about what they’re eating.
Blood said she proposed the measure after seeing two women in a grocery store who couldn’t tell whether a product contained meat or a substitute. She said her proposal wouldn’t require inspections of product labels, as Missouri’s law does.
“I don’t want to be the meat police,” she said.
Under the Nebraska bill, violations would bring a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
“Consumers have a right to know what they’re buying,” said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. “That’s the case whether it’s a vegetarian product or not. There ought to be clear, honest and accurate labeling, and then let the marketplace make the choices.”
Hansen said his group’s livestock producers are particularly concerned about whether consumers will be able to differentiate between meat grown in the lab and farm-grown beef, pork and chicken.
Pete McClymont, executive vice president for the group Nebraska Cattlemen, said his organization’s concern rises partly from the growth of products labeled as almond and soy milk, which have become an increasingly popular alternative to cow’s milk.
McClymont said his group still needs to review specific details of the Nebraska proposal, but will push for any law that protects the state’s livestock producers.