- According to a Missouri law that went into effect Jan. 1, anyone who uses the word "meat" on food labels or in ads in the state could be fined and receive a jail sentence unless the product came from harvested livestock or poultry.
- The state was sued in federal court even before the proposal became law. The plaintiffs on the case are the Good Food Institute, Animal Legal Defense Fund, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the plant-based brand Tofurky. Their complaint argues the Missouri law is unconstitutional and would criminalize the word "meat," but the case is still pending.
- Tofurky hasn't yet changed its labels to comply with the law, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. CEO Jaime Athos told the Missouri newspaper that his Oregon-based company could opt not to sell its products in the state if it meant a fight over package labeling. But Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown told VegNews the firm's Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage will continue to be sold there.
Missouri is the first state in the country to pass such a bill. The new law includes language prohibiting "misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production [of] livestock or poultry."
The state legislature approved the proposal as part of an omnibus agriculture bill in May, and it was supported by the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association as a way to reduce shopper confusion and protect local ranchers. But ACLU attorney Tony Rothert told Mother Jones that the true motivation behind the legislation was to protect the meat industry from competition.
Enforcement of the new law is in limbo until the federal complaint is decided, but the bill sponsor, Republican state Rep. Jeff Knight, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he wants the Missouri Department of Agriculture to begin enforcement immediately. Knight said his goal with the proposal was to assist Missouri cattle, pork and chicken producers who have paid through a checkoff system for marketing and outreach activities.
But one Missouri retailer said she doesn't believe the new law is going to change much. Becky Brown, co-owner of Natural Health Organic Foods in Cape Girardeau, told a local TV station she was initially concerned, but then realized labels on the plant-based meat alternatives she sells are already in compliance.
It's possible other states could pass similar laws, but legislators may be waiting to see whether a national effort is successful. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture nearly a year ago to limit the definition of "beef" and "meat" to products made "from cattle born, raised and harvested in the traditional manner." The petition received many comments and letters of support and opposition in the comment period.
The group also wants to restrict labeling of any products "coming from alternative sources such as a synthetic product from plant, insects or other non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells." Backers of the Missouri law said the future regulation of lab-grown meat was one of their main reasons for supporting it.
It's hard to tell whether the new law will restrict competition from plant-based alternatives to beef, pork and poultry — or dairy and egg products, for that matter. That horse may have already left the barn, but that doesn't mean producers are giving up the fight. There are similar skirmishes underway over the term "milk" on plant-based beverages, although there haven't been loud objections over JUST using the term "egg" on the company's mung bean-based substitute.
Unless definitive action is taken to the federal level over meat labeling, it's unlikely a patchwork of states will be able to significantly impact the issue on their own. But Missouri could do some damage to the market if a judge doesn't block this new law, and other states might follow suit if they have a large agriculture sector. In the long run though, most consumers seem to know what they're getting when they buy plant-based alternatives to animal-derived products, which could end up being the most significant factor in this product-naming debate.