Ten states have now passed laws prohibiting the misrepresentation of foods as “meat” if they are not derived from animal carcasses. Similar bills were introduced in several other states this year. These laws present fascinating (for me, at least) First Amendment commercial speech issues, which will have to be decided by the courts. While that plays out, companies that sell plant-based meat alternatives have to decide whether they should change their labeling and how much risk they are willing to take. This post provides a summary of the new laws.
The laws passed in five of the ten states are focused on the labeling of cell-cultured “meat”: Alabama, Kentucky,Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina. These laws prohibit labeling or misrepresenting cell cultured products as meat and, in some cases, explicitly require that such products be labeled as derived from cell cultures. The North Dakota law also forbids packaging a cell-cultured product in the same or “deceptively similar” packaging as a meat product.
Five other states have passed laws that regulate the labeling of plant-based meat alternatives as well as cell-cultured products. In 2018, Missouri became the first state to pass a law restricting “meat” labeling. Arkansas, Mississippi, South Dakota and Wyoming followed suit with similar legislation this year.
Missouri’s SB 627 amended the state’s Meat Advertising Law effective August 2018 to prohibit “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” Violators may be criminally prosecuted. The Missouri Department of Agriculture has issued guidelines saying that it will not consider products to be misrepresented if their labeling contains:
- A prominent statement on the front of the package, immediately before or immediately after the product name, that the product is “plant-based,” “veggie,” “lab-grown,” “lab-created,” or a comparable qualifier; and
- A prominent statement on the package that the product is “made from plants,” “grown in a lab,” or a comparable disclosure.
Arkansas Act 501 (HB 1407) was passed on March 18, 2019. It prohibits representing a product as a meat product if it has not been “derived from harvested livestock, poultry, or cervids” and includes an extremely vague prohibition against “utilizing a term that is the same as or similar to a term that has been used or defined historically in reference to a specific agricultural product.” Arkansas, a big rice-producing state, also prohibited labeling a non-rice product (think “cauliflower rice”) with a name that “uses a variation of rice in the name” of the product.
Mississippi SB 2922 takes effect July 1, 2019. It prohibits labeling a food “as meat or a meat food product” if it is plant-based, insect-based, or produced from animal cells outside the animal.
South Dakota’s S 68, which was enacted on March 29, 2019, prohibits labeling that “intentionally misrepresents” a product as meat or poultry.
Wyoming’s S 68 was signed by the governor on February 26, 2019. It forbids using “the term ‘meat’ or any synonymous term for meat or a specific animal species in labeling, advertising or other sales promotion” of products not derived from harvested animals. It also requires producers to “clearly label cell cultured products as ‘containing cell cultured product’ and clearly label plant based products as ‘vegetarian’, ‘veggie’, ‘vegan’, ‘plant based’ or other similar term indicating that the product is plant based.”
It is too early to tell whether these laws will make much of a difference for the booming plant-based meat alternatives industry. Federal and state law already prohibited misrepresentation of food products long before these new state laws were passed. However, the new laws may prompt increased regulatory scrutiny of the labeling and marketing of plant-based products, as well as lawsuits from consumers and competitors alleging false or misleading labeling. Companies that sell plant-based meat alternatives should carefully review their labeling with an eye toward mitigating risk in light of the new state laws and current political and regulatory climate.