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Missouri The First State To Get Serious About The Definition Of Meat

A bill that awaits a signature by Missouri's governor would restrict labeling anything that doesn't come from an animal meat.
Grant Gerlock
Harvest Public Media file photo
A bill that awaits a signature by Missouri's governor would restrict labeling anything that doesn't come from an animal meat.

Updated June 1, 2018, with bill signed — Missouri is in the vanguard when it comes to defining what meat is.

It’s an essential, perhaps even existential, question sparked by the growth of plant-based proteins,meat substitutes and lab-grown products. And it’s a topic that, while first passed at the state level Thursday, is also being consideredat the federal level.

Under the bill, which had overwhelming bipartisan support, only products that come from once-living, breathing animals could be marketed as meat. Specifically, meat would be defined as something “derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.”

The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association backed the legislation. Spokesman Mike Deering said it’s key to protecting livestock producers’ livelihood and investments.

“There’s a lot of unknowns about these products and safety protocols and nutrition and all of that … we’re not against technology, we’re not stifling technology, but (we wanted to) make sure that we market with integrity and we’re honest with consumers,” he said.

In a year when the USDA expects Americans to eat record amounts of meat, the livestock associations aren’t necessarily targeting veggie burgers. They’re more focused on plant-based meat products (also known as “clean meat”) that have been gaining steam in the last year or so — companies like Beyond Meat and Hungry Planet in Missouri, as well as Impossible Burger and Memphis Meats.

Deering referenced a “knowledge gap” between producers and consumers.

“Why try to mimic the traditional meat industry?” he said of alternative meat company packaging that he says misleads consumers. “Why put pictures of cattle and pictures of chickens on their product?”

But that’s an argument that opponents of the bill, including the Good Food Institute, believe is a nonstarter. They say consumers are smart enough to know what they’re looking for at the grocery store.

“All of these products that are currently on the market use descriptors that say what the source of the ingredients are … you’re going to find something that says soy-based vegan beef crumbles,” GFI’s Director of Policy Jessica Almy said, adding, “These compound names, like plant-based chicken, both communicate to consumers what the source of the food is.”

She also said that federal law already keeps companies from misleading consumers about what the product is, and pointed out another possible issue: “a patchwork” of state labeling laws.

“It’s going to create a situation where products that go to Missouri have to labeled differently” than in the other 49 states and it’ll “post significant and unnecessary hurdles for producers selling new products,” Almy said.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens signed the bill June 1, his last day in office.

Follow Erica on Twitter: @ehunzinger

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media

Erica Hunzinger is the editor of Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri.