A coalition of groups that includes meat-alternative giant Tofurky is suing the state of Missouri over a new law that limits which products are allowed to be called meat.
The language in question, which went into effect Tuesday, is comprised of a single sentence tucked into a broader agriculture bill.
“This act also prohibits misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry,” the law, which was signed by the governor in June, reads.
While a seemingly innocuous clarification, this single line has prompted a lawsuit against the state from Tofurky and others, who argue that it is an attempt to squash competition from meat alternatives. Since the wording is vague, companies that make meat alternatives are concerned that labeling vegetarian or vegan products as “hot dogs,” “deli slices,” or “sausages,” something that’s regularly done though with a clear delineation that they are plant-based, could be a violation of the law. Beyond Meat, a company that creates meat-like plant-based proteins like the Beyond Burger, might also be violating the law just by including the company’s name on the label, according to the lawsuit.
“No one buys Tofurky plant-based deli slices thinking they were carved from a slaughtered animal any more than people are buying almond milk thinking it was squeezed from a cow’s udder,” says a press release from the Good Food Institute, an institute that funds research into meat alternatives and is a co-party on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit notes that there’s no evidence that consumers were confused about meat alternatives: The Office of the Missouri Attorney General, for example, has received zero complaints from consumers who accidentally purchased plant-based meats that they thought were from animals. It also notes that the language was lobbied for by the state’s meat industry, and State Senator Sandy Crawford, who supported the bill, has made clear the intention was not alleviating consumer confusion, but limiting competition.
“We wanted to protect our cattlemen in Missouri and protect our beef brand,” Crawford told Drovers, a livestock industry trade magazine.
The law follows a similar pattern of traditional agricultural producers lobbying for protections against what they see as competition from the growing sector of plant-based foods, and meat lobbyists in other states are taking note of Missouri’s move. Last year, the dairy industry led a crusade to try to prohibit plant-based milks like almond milk and soy milk from being able to use “milk” on the label.
As consumers become more conscious about the health and environmental impacts of eating animals, and science allows for more creative and convincing meat substitutes, the market for meat alternatives is only going to continue to grow. It’s likely that as this competitive market grows, so will the meat industry’s desperation to squash it any way they can.
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