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Slaughterhouse Fight?: New Missouri meat ad law draws lawsuit

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A new Missouri law regarding how meat – and faux meat – is packaged and labeled is facing pushback.

The state passed Senate Bill 627 on Aug. 28 to amend a 1985 law that dealt with meat product advertisements on packaging.

“It’s basically to ensure marketing with integrity. Consumers need to understand what they’re putting in their bodies,” said Mike Deering, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, which lobbied for the amendment.

The amendment was sponsored by state Reps. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo; Jeff Knight, R-Lebanon; and Warren Love, R-Osceola.

The new law says meat alternative products must be labeled with statements like “plant-based,” “veggie,” “lab-grown,” “lab-created” or a comparable qualifier immediately before or after the product name. “Made from plants” or “grown in a lab” are other acceptable terms, according to the bill language.

“The definition of meat has been in the state statute for a long time. We didn’t change, alter or modify the definition,” Deering said.

The amendment is to distinguish between animal meat and alternative meat products.

While definitions haven’t been altered, a lawsuit claims some civil liberties may have been.

Three groups have banded together – the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, Oregon-based Turtle Island Foods/The Tofurky Co. and Washington, D.C., nonprofit The Good Food Institute Inc. – to file suit in the Western District of Missouri. The lawsuit filed a day before the bill was approved claims the amendment violates the Dormant Commerce Clause, Due Process Clause and First Amendment.

The lawsuit claims the new law would put a burden on companies shipping meat products across state lines and it could discriminate against companies that sell meat alternatives. It also states the amendment impedes companies’ rights to engage in truthful commercial speech.

Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson is listed as defendant to represent the 115 total prosecuting attorneys in Missouri.

Small local players that specialize in meat alternatives, like startup Jake’s Burgers, are in some form of limbo.

Owner Jake Herren said the new law may cause him to reorder a label stamp for a new taco meat product he was working on.

“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride,” he said of his first month in business selling soy and wheat protein products.

After the amendment passed, Herren said he’s been kicking around ideas to name new products “veat.” But he’s worried about consumers’ reactions.

“It could force wording that’s less appealing,” Herren said.

Herren said he will be monitoring the lawsuit outcome but did not anticipate joining in.

“I was honestly surprised. We’re not in competition with each other,” Herren said. “People making fake meat are making it for vegetarians and vegans. People with animals are making it for meat eaters.”

The new amendment, fully effective Jan. 1, 2019, will be phased in over the next four months by the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Inspection Program to give companies time to update labels and bring products into compliance.
 
Violations are classified as Class A misdemeanors that carry up to a year in jail time and a fine up to $1,000.

The 1985 law prohibits misleading or deceiving advertising on packaging and restricts use of the words “half,” “bundle,” or “free,” along with prohibiting 20 separate advertising practices.

“The 1985 law did not especially deal with what you can and cannot call meat. It’s a totally different ballgame,” said Deering of the state Cattlemen’s Association.

Deering said the association is concerned about regulations of lab- or plant-based products.

“There are a lot of unknowns in terms of food safety,” Deering said.

According to language in the lawsuit, lab-based products are grown from an animal cell then cultivated into muscle tissue. Citing the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the suit indicates lab-based chicken and beef products are slated to hit the U.S. market in late 2018.

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the same guidelines put in place in Missouri on a national level.

Jake’s Burgers sells out of Homegrown Food, and Herren also just started a partnership with Mama Jean’s Natural Food Market LLC.

Others in the industry, like Horrmann Meat Co. LLC, don’t anticipate any changes in their business model once the new amendment goes into effect.

“It’s not going to affect us at all. We’re beef, chicken and pork mainly,” said Corey Milam, store manager at the Battlefield location.

“We’re more of an old-school, classic butcher shop.”

Owner Seth Hoerman said the company sells between 25,000 and 50,000 pounds of animal meat products per month, and he hasn’t considered branching out into the plant-based market.

“I don’t think it’s ever been discussed,” Milam said.

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