Industry wary of alternatives tries to protect the word ‘meat’
More than four months after Missouri became the first U.S. state to regulate the term “meat” on product labels, Nebraska’s powerful farm groups are pushing for similar protection from veggie burgers, tofu dogs and other items that look and taste like real meat.
Nebraska lawmakers will consider a bill this year 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.” It would make it a crime to advertise or sell something “as meat that is not derived from poultry or livestock.”
Similar measures aimed at meat alternatives are pending in Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming. They come amid a debate over what to call products that are being developed using the emerging science of meat grown by culturing cells in a lab. Supporters of the science are embracing the term “clean meat” – language the conventional meat industry strongly opposes.
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 and had the most feed cows as of last year, 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, according to the USDA’s most recent available data.
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.
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.”
The Impossible Burger is a plant-based patty with wheat protein, coconut oil and potato protein among its ingredients.