Ranchers steak their claim to ‘meat’
WASHINGTON— Food labels such as “veggie burgers” and “Tofurky” prompted a new Missouri law making it illegal to stick meatlike names on products that aren’t made from meat — pitting cattlemen against vegetarians in a food fight poised to spread across the country.
The battle is heating up as new foods flood the market, from vegetarian items that emulate animal proteins to soon-tocome lab-produced meat that never saw the inside of a barn and makes ranchers fear for their livelihoods. Even though the Missouri law is being challenged in court, a handful of other cattle-raising states, including Iowa and Montana, see it as a precedent they may want to follow.
“This is going to be an enormous issue,” said Doug Farquhar, environmental health program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “The Cattlemen’s Association is pushing several state legislatures to do this, depending on the outcome” of the Missouri lawsuit.
“Missouri said if you want to call it ‘meat’ it has to be from livestock,” he said. “Nobody has a really good definition of what meat is — cell-based meat, clean meat, lab meat? The names are all over the board.”
The Missouri measure was folded into an overall agriculture bill approved by the legislature and signed June 1 by Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, as he was on his way out the door as governor. (He resigned that day in the wake of an ethics investigation.) The change was to take effect in August but the Oregon-based company Tofurky and the Washington, D.C.- based Good Food Institute filed suit to block its implementation on First Amendment and other grounds. The group asked for the law to be thrown out.
Jessica Almy, director of policy for the institute, which promotes alternatives to meat, said labels like “veggie burger,” which are outlawed in the new statute, are not confusing to consumers. “Consumers know exactly what they are buying,” she said. “Nobody owns language.”