Using Old Legislative Frameworks to Regulate Alternative Meat Product Labeling

aFor  variety of reasons–among them, economic efficiencies, environmental concerns, dietary health, and expanding access–the plant-based and cellular-grown foods industry is growing at a rapid rate. This fast expansion of a new kind of alternative food, however, has triggered concerns about how it is marketed and labeled for consumption. By the end of 2019, at least half of U.S. states introduced legislation addressing labeling of plant-based or cell-grown foods, with a particular focus on meat. Two states with the most recent legislative developments demonstrating the hesitation to embrace these new meat sources are Nebraska and Kansas.

The introduction and reintroduction of a bill currently pending in Nebraska typify the general uncertainty surrounding the regulation of alternatively sourced meat, as well as the instinct to rely on already existing legislation for the purposes of regulation. At the end of January 2020, a state senator, Carol Blood, withdrew her bill, LB14, focused on limiting the use of the term “meat” on product labels on meat sold within Nebraska. The following day, Blood introduced a new bill, LB 594, which instead sought to amend Nebraska’s Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) by adding language to the bill–which previously targeted pyramid schemes and other illegal sales–covering meat labeling. The bill, if passed, would amend the DTPA by directing that anyone who, advertises, promotes, labels, represents illustrates, displays for sale, offers for sale, attempts to sale, or sells an insect-based, a plant-based, or lab-grown food product as meat, is in violation of Nebraska’s trade policies. The intent was to use a labeling and reporting structure already in existence in the state.

During January 2020, Kansas similarly faced the challenge of meat not derived, traditionally, from poultry or livestock. Much like its Midwestern neighbor, Kansas is looking to address the alternative meat-labeling issue by looking to modify legislation already in existence. HB2437 would amend Kansas’s Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit the use of familiar, identifiable meat terms on labeling or in advertisements of alternative meat products without either a disclaimer that the product does not, in fact, contain meat, or the inclusion of the term imitation immediately before the type of meat being imitated.

States across the country are currently facing similar legal battles stemming from legislation regulating the labeling of plant-based and cellular-grown meat products. But with various competing factors to consider such as the interests of a powerful cattle industry, the jurisdiction of the USDA, and the need for the appearance of integrity of food products, even if existing state legislation is utilized to navigate and direct the regulation of the new alternative-meat industry, its development will almost certainly require traveling down new legal roads.

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