Several states are starting to take a look at meat alternatives and if they should be labeling themselves as such.  
Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Impossible Foods

When you think of a classic comfort food, you may think of meat and potatoes—but dietary habits are quickly evolving, despite the role that comfort food plays in the market. According to Forbes, 60 percent of U.S. consumers are actively reducing their meat intake, while 17 percent say they don’t eat meat at all. These stats are prompting executives within the meat industry, including those at Tyson Foods and Cargill, to invest in and create their own meat alternatives.

But lawmakers in Nebraska are now considering a bill which would prevent plant-based, insect-based, and lab-grown products from being labeled as “meat,” after powerful agriculture groups within the state began pushing for regulation. According to The Washington Post, agriculture is Nebraska’s largest industry, and livestock and meat sales accounted for over $12 billion of the state’s income in 2016.

“I’m not bringing this bill to tell people what they can and can’t eat,” Senator Carol Blood, D-NE, told the Post. “All I’m asking for is truth in advertising. It’s clear that meat comes from livestock, and livestock is our livelihood in Nebraska.”

Missouri has already regulated the use of “meat” on product labels, and Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming are also considering a similar bill. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has also raised concerns by starting a petition for the USDA to exclude any product not made by raised and slaughtered animals from being labeled as beef.

The legal definition of "meat" is the "edible part of the muscle of an animal... which is intended for human food," whereas traditional meat food products are defined as  any articles intended for human food… which are derived or prepared in whole or in substantial and definite part, from any portion of any animal.” There are a few exceptions, including meat juice and meat extract.

The newly proposed bill would ban any “misleading or deceptive practices” in Nebraska with regard to products made without meat bearing a "meat" label. Violations could lead to a misdemeanor charge, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Senator Blood, a vegetarian herself, said she proposed this bill after seeing two women confused on whether a product contained meat or a substitute, the Post reports. She also noted she wants to avoid being “the meat police,” and wouldn’t require product label inspections, unlike Missouri’s bill.

How to incorporate more plant-based proteins into your diet:

The Post noted that members of the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association said they are willing to lobby for any law to keep meat alternatives from disrupting their industry.

But those who oppose the bill say that meat alternatives are normally displayed in a different section of most traditional grocery retailers, unlike plant-based milks. A few major groups have opposed Missouri's new legislation already: the Good Food Institute, the ACLU of Missouri, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Tofurkey, a plant-based meat alternatives producer, have filed a lawsuit against the Missouri law for this reason, according to the Post.

Jessica Almy, director of policy for Good Food Institute, told The Washington Post that the bill would be unfair censorship and create confusion for consumers that isn't really an issue.

“You can’t censor speech just to promote one industry’s financial success,” Almy said.