The Missouri Legislature is considering a bill to set strict labeling rules for lab-grown meat and plant-based meat substitutes. According to The Intercept, the proposal would prohibit labeling any product that wasn't derived from the production of livestock or poultry as "meat."
The bill's sponsors have ties to the meat industry, The Intercept reported, which is concerned that lab-grown meat and plant-based alternatives could become a threat to their business.
So far, the legislation — House Bill 2607 — has passed two committees of the Missouri House of Representatives but had not been scheduled for any hearings or further action as of April 11.
This legislative effort to restrict labeling of lab-grown meat and plant-based meat substitutes — such as the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger — echoes the dairy industry's recent legal and political battles to stop plant-based dairy alternatives from being labeled as "milk" if the product isn't derived from a cow.
The timing is interesting, since Missouri lawmakers are considering this regulatory action just as similar issues are starting to be addressed on the federal level. However, should Congress decide to adopt labeling restrictions on lab-grown meat and plant-based meat alternatives, the federal rules would preempt any existing state ones.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, recently asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to look into whether cell-cultured food products have, or require, a specific regulatory framework and how other countries are handling the issue.
Answers to many of her questions should be forthcoming once the GAO responds. But cell-cultured meat, poultry or fish products are a long way from hitting the marketplace at a reasonable price point to compete with the real thing, so there may be sufficient time for the government to settle these issues beforehand.
Since lab-grown meat won't be on store shelves anytime soon, the meat industry hasn't shown the same level of concern about these products as the dairy industry has about non-dairy competitors.
“We’ll see what the marketplace says, but we feel good about the growth of beef and the consumer’s confidence in our product,” Pete McClymont, executive vice-president of the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association, recently told the Omaha World-Herald.
Backers of plant-based meat or dairy alternatives don't think consumers are in any danger of thinking such products are derived from animal agriculture — regardless of what their labels may say.
Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, told The New York Times last year, "There’s no cow on any of these containers of almond milk or soy milk. No one is trying to fool consumers. All they're trying to do is create a better alternative for people who are looking for that option."
Most consumers may know the difference between meat grown in a lab and a cut of steak, but if they don't, the labeling should clearly inform them. The Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger, for example, note their plant-based origins on the front of the packaging.
"People are not going to mistake a veggie burger for a hamburger," State Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, told The intercept. "And so, to think that we need to have anybody selling foods in Missouri have a different label is just a little bit unreasonable."
It's possible that the meat industry's efforts to push out lab-grown and plant-based meat from the traditional "meat" label will be as fruitless as the dairy wars. But in the same way that many consumers drink both plant-based and dairy milks, it seems likely that these more unusual meats will be introduced alongside traditional proteins, rather than replacements.