Animal Rights Activists v. Big Agriculture: Who Gets to Claim Ownership of the Term “Meat”

by Michelle C. Pardo

We previously blogged about a legal challenge to Missouri’s amended advertising law that regulates what products are permitted to use the term “meat”.  Nebraska is the latest state to consider legislation that aims to define what can be marketed and sold as “meat”. This year, Nebraska lawmakers will consider a bill that defines meat as “any edible portion of any livestock or poultry, carcass, or part thereof.”  Excluded from the definition of meat: “lab-grown or insect or plant-based food products.” (Yes, you read that right. Edible insects are apparently on trend and being promoted as an “efficient, sustainable source of protein and nutrients”).Missouri’s amended law was swiftly challenged in federal court by animal activist group the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the Good Food Institute (co-founded by Bruce Friedrich, who spent over a decade working at PETA and once served as its Director of Vegan Campaigns) and the ACLU of Missouri.  These groups allege that the restrictions on the use of the term “meat” violate free speech and result in unfair competition in the marketplace. These and other opponents of such meat advertising laws claim that the laws are not designed to protect consumers from confusion in the marketplace but, rather, to protect powerful industry players whose businesses are squarely centered on raising and selling animals and animals products.

Other legislative measures aimed at regulating meat alternatives are pending in Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming. These measures come at a time when even the federal regulatory scheme for how to deal with “clean meat”, cell-cultured, or lab-grown meat is just emerging.

Similar conflicts have been occurring across the food industry as traditional food companies vie for the right to the exclusive use of the term “mayonnaise” or “milk” after vegan and other food companies have created substitutes that do not use eggs or milk from animals in their products.  This past summer, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb stated that the federal standards of identity limit the term “milk” to the “lacteal secretion” of animals and gained press for this phrase: “an almond doesn’t lactate.”

Supporters of the Nebraska legislation include Senator Carol Blood who, ironically, is reported to be a vegetarian.

“I’m not bringing this bill to tell people what they can and can’t eat,” states Blood. “All I am asking for is truth in advertising. It’s clear that meat comes from livestock, and livestock is our livelihood in Nebraska.”

Blood claims that she proposed the measure after witnessing two customer’s confusion in the grocery store about whether a product contained meat or a substitute.  According to reported USDA data, livestock and livestock product sales generated an estimated $12.1 billion for Nebraska’s economy in 2016.