Manufacturers, producers and sellers of meat substitutes, including popular plant-based products and emerging cell-cultured products, can now be subject to criminal penalties in Missouri for calling their products “meat,” or by using meat-related terms in their marketing or labeling. According to a revised version R.S.Mo. § 265.494 that went into effect on August 28, 2018, it is now illegal in Missouri to “misrepresent a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” Violating this statute is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by fines and imprisonment.
Missouri is the first state to regulate meat-alternative labeling in this manner, making this the first state-level step in what may become a national push to impose such regulations on the marketing and labeling of “alternative meats.” Under pressure from the “traditional” meat industry, other states are likely to follow Missouri’s lead, and affected companies and industries may see increased regulations and subsequent disputes over what can legally be marketed and sold as “meat” or a meat-related product.
Besides Missouri’s new law, efforts have been made at the national level to restrict the ability to use the term “meat.” In February 2018, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service requesting that the USDA “limit the definition of beef to product from cattle born, raised and harvested in the traditional manner” and that the definition of “meat” be “limited to the tissue or flesh of animals that have been harvested in the traditional manner.” Both of these proposed definitions would explicitly prohibit products “from plant, insects or other non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells” being labeled or marketed as “beef” or “meat.”
In July 2018, various organizations related to the “traditional” meat industry, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Turkey Federation sent a letter to President Trump asserting that the USDA, and not the FDA, should have primary authority to regulate “cell-cultured” protein products.
Following the effective date of the Missouri statute, Turtle Island Foods, which does business as the Tofurky Company and which produces, markets and sells plant-based food products nationwide, along with the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for alternatives to conventional meat products, sued seeking an injunction preventing enforcement of the statute and a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional. The lawsuit asserts that the statute violates the free speech rights of plant-based and “clean meat” producers and will prevent producers such as Tofurky from “accurately informing consumers what their products are: foods designed to fulfill the roles conventional meat has traditionally played in a meal.” The lawsuit also asserts that existing state and federal protections against misleading and deceptive labeling already apply to these products and adequately protect consumers who are not confused about what they are buying when they purchase meat-substitute products. The statute, however, remains in effect.