In­dus­try wary of al­ter­na­tives tries to pro­tect a word: meat

Texarkana Gazette - - NATION / WORLD -

LIN­COLN, Neb.—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 “lab­grown or in­sect or plant­based 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 plant­based al­ter­na­tives, as well as those work­ing to bring lab-grown meat to mar­ket. Crit­ics say the bill in­fringes on the free-speech rights of com­pa­nies that pro­duce veg­e­tar­ian al­ter­na­tives to real meat.

The Good Food In­sti­tute, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Mis­souri, the An­i­mal Le­gal De­fense Fund and plant-based food com­pany To­furkey have filed a fed­eral law­suit chal­leng­ing the Mis­souri law . They ar­gue the law un­fairly sti­fles com­pe­ti­tion.

The Ne­braska bill “would cen­sor food la­bels and cre­ate con­sumer con­fu­sion where there is none,” said Jes­sica Almy, direc­tor of pol­icy for the Wash­ing­ton-based Good Food In­sti­tute. “You can’t cen­sor speech just to pro­mote one in­dus­try’s fi­nan­cial suc­cess.”

Sup­port­ers of the Ne­braska mea­sure say they want to en­sure peo­ple aren’t mis­led about what they’re eat­ing.

Blood said she pro­posed the mea­sure af­ter see­ing two women in a gro­cery store who couldn’t tell whether a prod­uct con­tained meat or a sub­sti­tute. She said her pro­posal wouldn’t re­quire in­spec­tions of prod­uct la­bels, as Mis­souri’s law does.

“I don’t want to be the meat po­lice,” she said.

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.”

Hansen said his group’s live­stock pro­duc­ers are par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about whether con­sumers will be able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween meat grown in the lab and farm-grown beef, pork and chicken.

Pete McC­ly­mont, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for the group Ne­braska Cat­tle­men, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s con­cern rises partly from the growth of prod­ucts la­beled as al­mond and soy milk, which have be­come an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive to cow’s milk. McC­ly­mont said his group still needs to re­view spe­cific de­tails of the Ne­braska pro­posal, but will push for any law that pro­tects the state’s live­stock pro­duc­ers.

“When I go out and speak to our mem­ber­ship, this is right near the top of what peo­ple are pas­sion­ate about,” he said.

As­so­ci­ated Press

■ A con­ven­tional beef burger, left, is seen Fri­day next to "The Im­pos­si­ble Burger," a plant-based burger con­tain­ing wheat pro­tein, co­conut oil and potato pro­tein among it's in­gre­di­ents. The in­gre­di­ents of the Im­pos­si­ble Burger are clearly printed on the menu at Stella's Bar & Grill in Belle­vue, Neb., where the meat and non-meat burg­ers are served. 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 meat.

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