Across the country, state governments are cracking down on companies’ ability to use accurate words to describe their products.
Missouri started the trend last year by enacting a law that makes it illegal to “misrepresent” a product as meat if it is not “derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” This year, more than a dozen states — from North Dakota to New Mexico — have introduced similar bills. This metastasizing war on plant-based proteins needs to be stopped before it hurts entrepreneurial companies, diet-conscious consumers and even the Constitution itself.
Often times these laws directly forbid alternative meat companies from using words like “meat” or “burger” at all on their packaging — even if the words are accompanied with a qualifier, such as “plant-based” meat or “veggie” burger. This means that companies such as Gardein (which makes “meatless meatballs”) and “Tofurky” could be forced to either rename their products or withdraw them from the market entirely.
After outcry over the Missouri law ensued, the state’s Department of Agriculture issued guidance to the “Meat Inspection Program” suggesting that it would not target products with disclaimers such as “plant-based” or “veggie.” Yet this guidance is not part of the law itself and therefore not binding on the local prosecuting attorneys who would enforce the law. Some versions of these bills have also targeted cell-based meat products, even though these products are not yet commercially available and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has already announced that it will be setting forth federal labeling guidelines for these products.