Thursday, August 29, 2019

Cattle producers, nervous about sales of meat alternatives, get state lawmakers to ban calling the products 'meat'

Lines wrapped around the building when KFC tested a vegan version of its fried chicken in an Atlanta restaurant this week. The restaurant sold out in five hours. (Associated Press photo by John Amis)
Meat analogues are entering a golden age in the US: Burger King and White Castle offer Impossible Burgers, Subway is testing Beyond Meatball subs, Dunkin Donuts is serving up Beyond Sausage breakfast sandwiches in New York, and KFC's Beyond Fried Chicken sold out in less than five hours in a test run in Atlanta this week. But as plant-based meat substitutes gain steam, many of the nation's 800,000 cattle ranchers—and the state lawmakers who listen to the cattlemen's associations—have become increasingly nervous.

"In 2019, officials in nearly 30 states have proposed bills to prohibit companies from using words such as meat, burger, sausage, jerky or hot dog unless the product came from an animal that was born, raised and slaughtered in a traditional way," Laura Reiley reports for The Washington Post. "Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming have already enacted such laws. [There are others.] In Missouri, the first state where the ban took effect, violators incur a $1,000 fine and as much as a year in prison. Mississippi’s new law is sweeping: 'Any food product containing cell-cultured animal tissue or plant-based or insect-based food shall not be labeled meat or as a meat product.'"

Cattle producers say the new laws are important because the meat analogues make unsubstantiated health claims and could confuse customers. Mike Deering, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, said that Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles have a picture of a cow on the front and say "plant-based" in small letters at the bottom of the package. "I’m a dad and I’m going through the grocery store before one of my boys has a meltdown, and [if] I pick up that package that says beef with a picture of a cow on it, I’m going to buy it," Deering told Reiley.

But, Deering acknowledges, Beyond Meat and products like it aren't the real worry. He says "some of the hubbub really relates to the anticipated launch next year of cell-based meat: that is meat, poultry and seafood products derived from muscle tissue grown in a lab with cells harvested from a living animal," Reiley reports. "Ranchers fear that insufficient labeling will not distinguish between traditional animal agriculture and these products that do not yet have a track record for safety and human health."

The meat and poultry industries have good reason to be concerned, if the dairy industry's woes are any indication. Sales of cow's milk have dwindled over the last decade, dropping $1.1 billion last year alone, and most of the reason was consumer preference for alternatives like almond milk or oat milk. And, as in the dairy industry, the major processors are staying out of the fight and hedging their bets by investing heavily in the alternatives, Reiley reports.

Meanwhile, the new and proposed labeling laws are getting pushback in court. "On July 22, Tofurky joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Good Food Institute (a nonprofit that promotes plant-based meat) and the Animal Legal Defense Fund to file a lawsuit claiming Arkansas’ new labeling law, which went into effect July 24, violates the First and Fourteenth amendments," Reiley reports.

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