by John M. Simpson.
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), a prominent non-governmental organization in the U.S. representing farm and ranch families, held its annual meeting earlier this month in New Orleans. Among the topics discussed (in addition to the address by President Trump), was the increase in “alternative protein” production, namely meat-like substances that are derived from plant ingredients or that are cell-based and grown in a laboratory from animal cells. Plant-based “meat” products (e.g., “tofurky”) are currently available at retail. Cell-cultured “meat” products are not yet available but could be seen in 2019.
As was noted during the discussion at the AFBF meeting, the target audience of these products is not comprised solely of vegetarians or vegans. It includes meat eaters as well.
The emergence of these alternative protein products raises many issues, including which agency at the federal level will regulate them — the Food and Drug Administration or the Department of Agriculture. In addition, there is concern among the traditional livestock and poultry producing community that labeling these products with the word “meat” is misleading to consumers. As set forth in its press release, the AFBF delegates adopted a policy statement to address some of these issues:
Delegates adopted a comprehensive policy to support innovation in cell-based food products while ensuring a level playing field for traditional protein. Delegates affirmed that the Agriculture Department is best equipped to be the primary regulator of new cell-based products as it encouraged USDA to utilize the Food and Drug Administration’s expertise in food safety. The policy also calls for complete and accurate product labels to ensure that consumers have all the pertinent information they need.
As we have reported previously, the manufacture of alternative protein sources that are labeled as “meat” or sold as such has generated controversy in the agricultural community. As a result, lawmakers in states with heavy agricultural constituencies have taken steps to ensure that consumers are not misled. Missouri was the first state in the U.S. to pass a law to prohibit “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested livestock or poultry.” Mo. Rev. Stat. § 265.494(7). The Missouri law, which was adopted in 2018, was challenged in court by an alternative protein manufacturer and a lobbying organization sympathetic to animal rights interests who are both represented by animal rights attorneys. Turtle Island Foods d/b/a The Tofurky Company, et al. v. Richardson et al., 2:18-cv-04173-NKL (W.D. Mo.). The Turtle Island case remains pending.
In the meantime, measures similar to the Missouri law have been introduced in several states and are now pending in the current legislative sessions:
Indiana: HB 1414 provides that a food product is misbranded and may not be sold or offered for sale if (1) it is not “derived from harvested livestock or poultry” but has a label stating or implying that it is a meat or poultry product; or (2) it is cultured in vitro from animal cells and is not so labeled.
Nebraska: LB 14 prohibits, as a misleading or deceptive practice, offering or selling a product by misrepresenting it “as meat that is not derived from livestock or poultry.” The bill further defines “meat” as “any edible portion of any livestock or poultry carcass or part thereof and does not include lab-grown or insect or plant-based food products.”
Tennessee: SB 0003 prohibits, under the state inspection law, “misrepresenting as meat or poultry a product that is not from the carcass of slaughtered livestock or poultry.”
Virginia: HB 2274 declares that a food product is misbranded “if it purports to be, or is represented as, a meat food product while containing no meat” except to the extent that “the word ‘imitation’ followed by the name of the meat food product” appears on the label.
Wyoming: SF 0068 prohibits representing a product as meat “unless the product is derived from harvested livestock, poultry or exotic livestock.” The bill defines “meat” to be “the edible part of the muscle of animals” but excludes muscle “found in the lips, snout or ears [and] any edible part of the muscle which has been manufactured, cured, smoked, cooked or processed.” The proposal further requires anyone selling a “meatlike product that is not derived from harvested livestock, poultry or exotic livestock” to “clearly label the product as an ‘imitation food.'”
Given the divergent forces involved in these issues — traditional livestock farming and meat production, real meat lovers, ersatz “meat” producers, vegetarians, vegans and animal rights advocates — the debate in 2019 promises to be interesting.