Missouri lawmakers have real cow over fake meat

New legislation says faux, plant-based meat from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods can't call itself meat.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou
2 min read
Highland cattle out on hillside.

Meat; no bull.

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Politicians in Missouri have planted a stake over plant steaks.

On Tuesday, the state enacted the first law in the US that prohibits food manufacturers from using the word "meat" to label anything that "is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry," according to HuffPost. Violators will reportedly be punished with a $1,000 fine and up to one year in prison.

This comes as lab-engineered vegetarian meat gains in popularity. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods use plant-based alternatives to create faux meat that looks, smells and tastes similar to real meat.

Not everyone is happy about these meat substitutes. The US Cattlemen's Association, a trade group made up of 10,000 ranchers, said the products could confuse consumers into buying vegetarian when they're actually after real meat. The organization earlier in February asked the government by way of a 15-page petition to officially define "beef" and "meat."

"USCA has called on Congress and the Administration to engage on this pivotal issue and implement policies that will get out ahead of consumer confusion in the marketplace by enforcing truth in labeling and facilitating inter-agency dialogue," said Kenny Graner, president at US Cattlemen's Association, in an email statement. "We ask our members to encourage their representatives to find a labeling solution for cell-cultured protein that is both truthful and transparent. Meat is meat, it isn't grown in a laboratory."

The Missouri law requires all the lab meat manufacturers to remove "meat" from their product labels. Vegetarian food maker Tofurky filed a lawsuit on Monday to defend labeling its products as meat, as long as the packaging tells consumers what the ingredients are, according to the Associated Press.

"I feel it's vital to champion the rights of our entire industry and stand-up for our market position. Demand for plant-based proteins has sky-rocketed domestically and abroad," said Jaime Athos, CEO of Tofurky, in an email statement. "Using our privately-held position to extinguish threats to legal definitions of terms like "meat," is one way we can further our mission to help reduce global dependence on animal agriculture."

The Good Food Institute, a lobbying group for alternative meat, also reportedly expressed concern that the language of the Missouri law is vague and could mean a range of vegetarian products are targeted.

The Good Food Institute didn't respond to requests for comment. 

First published on August 28, 1:47 p.m. PT.

Updates, August 29, 5:50 a.m. PT: Adds Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos statement. 

Updates, 12:08 p.m. PT: Adds USCA President Kenny Graner statement.