Hope everyone had enjoyable cookouts and all that for the 4th no matter what you eat these days, and speaking of cookouts, you know a green product is a real threat to capture American market share when corporate America calls on Republicans to regulate their competition out of existence.
It’s been a good few months for the plant-based meat movement — so good that opponents of the fledgling industry are starting to mobilize.
This week, a new law went into effect in Mississippi. The state now bans plant-based meat providers from using labels like “veggie burger” or “vegan hot dog” on their products. Such labels are potentially punishable with jail time. Words like “burger” and “hot dog” would be permitted only for products from slaughtered livestock. Proponents claim the law is necessary to avoid confusing consumers — but given that the phrase “veggie burger” hasn’t been especially confusing for consumers this whole time, it certainly seems more like an effort to keep alternatives to meat away from shoppers.
“The plant-based meat alternative category is on fire right now, with consumers demanding healthier and more sustainable options,” Michele Simon, the executive director of the Plant-Based Foods Association, said in a statement. “This law, along with similar laws in several other states, is the meat lobby’s response.”
The makers of meat alternatives are suing. In a lawsuit filed on July 2, they argue that since their products are already labeled “vegan,” no consumers are confused. If anything, the requirement that they avoid product descriptions like “veggie burger” makes things more confusing.
“There is no evidence that consumers are confused by plant-based bacon or veggie burger labels, and federal laws are already in place that prohibits consumer deception,” said Jessica Almy, director of policy at the Good Food Institute, an organization that works on expanding access to plant-based foods. “This law is a tremendous overstep of state powers.”
And that’s not the only problem. Food scientists are working right now on cell-based meat products, which are identical to meat from animals but grown from stem cells in a factory. Those products (which aren’t on the market yet) are meat in every relevant sense — most importantly, anyone with an allergy to meat will experience an allergic reaction to the products, and the items must be stored, refrigerated, and handled as meat. But under Mississippi’s current law, it’d be illegal to disclose that on the label.
This legal fight matters. Labeling laws like these have been discussed around the country, and courts will soon debate whether they’re constitutional. At the same time, federal regulators are looking to the states for cues about labeling laws for plant-based meat. Aggressive prohibitions could slow the growth of plant-based alternatives, which are badly needed.
“This bill will protect our cattle farmers from having to compete with products not harvested from an animal,” said Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation president Mike McCormick in January when the bill passed in the Mississippi state House.
Mississippi isn’t the first state to consider this. Missouri passed the first such labeling law last year, and it was challenged in court by groups including the Good Food Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that such a “content-based, overbroad, and vague” restriction on the language companies could use to describe their products was unconstitutional. The lawsuit is now in settlement talks.
Dozens of other states have considered similar laws since then. The laws are popular with farmers and ranchers, who see their business model threatened by the rising popularity of plant-based meat.
Expect this to go to the courts in a losing battle while the Trump FDA issues new "labeling guidelines" that make Mississippi's law a national one, and soon. The rancher and meat processing lobby wants plant burgers and lab-grown meat to go away now, because if Millennials and Gen Z get hooked on Impossible Whoppers from Burger King now, they know they're done in an increasingly greening and sustainable world.
It doesn't have the Tesla problem either, plant burgers are actually cheaper in some places because hey, Trump's stupid trade war and climate change and family farms tanking has made beef pretty pricey these days, it's $4-$5 a pound here in the Cincy area for ground beef and well more than that for steak. Plant-based products are cheaper.
So yes, I definitely see Trump's FDA moving to hamstring plant burgers like this, and if they don't, GOP legislatures will be lobbyed until they do.