Mississippi and South Dakota criminalize misuse of term 'meat'
- Montana, Mississippi and South Dakota are the three latest states to pass legislation to prohibit labeling products that are not from a slaughtered animal as meat. While Mississippi and South Dakota’s bills are now law, Montana’s bill is still awaiting the signature of Gov. Steve Bullock, according to Food Safety News.
- When Missouri signed a similar bill into law last year, the state was immediately taken to court by the Good Food Institute, Animal Legal Defense Fund, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and plant-based brand Tofurky. The two parties are currently in settlement talks, which have been extended until May 1.
- Similar bills to limit the definition of "meat" are in consideration on the floor of legislatures in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming, Food Safety News says.
Instead of waiting on the pending federal court verdict of the Missouri lawsuit that argues the state's law is unconstitutional and would criminalize misuse of the word "meat,” three more states have passed legislation to prevent what they see as mislabeling within their borders. Such an act underscores the growing support for regulating use of the noun that is traditionally used to describe animal flesh.
As more and more consumers become concerned with meat intake due to environmental and health reasons, competition from alternative meats is starting to make an impact in the livestock industry. According to HealthFocus data, 17% of U.S. consumers eat a predominately plant-based diet, and 60% claim to be reducing their consumption of meat-based products.
This evolving consumer mindset is making major financial waves as well. In 2016, total plant-based meat sales topped $606 million. And from June 2017 to June 2018, retail sales of plant-based foods jumped up 20% to $3.3 billion, according to Nielsen data reported by Food Navigator.
As meat-replacements become more sophisticated, big producers and CPG companies have invested in products like Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger instead of fighting the trend. However, at a state level where producers are smaller and their livelihood stems directly from the sale of their animals, the rise of plant-based protein is a horse of a different color.
In South Dakota, agriculture is the state’s No. 1 industry. USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated livestock value of production in South Dakota at more than $2.8 billion in 2017, ranking 12th in the nation for livestock and poultry production. Montana and Mississippi livestock and poultry sales are also highly valued. They rank 27th and 19th in the nation, respectively.
None of these bills ban the sale of plant-based meat, but their labeling requirements will definitely throw a monkey wrench into the mix for plant-based producers who align themselves with the meat industry as an opportunity to compete directly as another alternative.
In Montana, the Real Meat Act is not so much concerned with plant-based or insect products. The bill is intended only to prevent cell-cultured products from being labeled as meat. Mississippi’s law goes farther and prohibits animal cultures, plants and insects from being labeled as meat. South Dakota's law similarly reserves the term "meat" for protein harvested from animal carcasses.
Still, even with growing pressure from states to clarify what exactly “meat” is, there doesn’t seem to be any general confusion among consumers. In fact, products including Beyond Burger and Good Catch Tuna proudly tout that they are made from plants, boldly emblazoning the claim on their packaging.
However, with increasing competition from foreign imports and a 2.5 billion-pound surplus of product, it’s no wonder that producers in these agricultural-dependent states are getting nervous at the thought of competition from plants. Nor are they the only industry to take a stance that plants cannot just be called something else after they have been manipulated in a lab to resemble commodities. There are similar skirmishes underway over the term "milk" on plant-based beverages, as well as an Arkansas law prohibiting anything that does not come from the grain to be called "rice."
Time will tell if more states jump on board and pass similar laws, but whether this issue heads to the national stage will likely depend on the verdict of the Missouri case. The federal court’s opinion on the matter could spark a movement to require consistent language requirements nationally.