U.S. Representatives Anthony Brindsi and Roger Marshall have introduced a bill in Congress called the R.E.A.L. Meat Act that would require all plant-based or non-bovine derived meat products to be labeled as "imitation."
The bill points to the lack of a federal definition for "beef," which – food processors have argued – allows for companies to sell products using that term (and other related words like "burger") with labeling that misleads or confuses consumers. Specifically, the legislation argues that such practices have created the "opportunity for marketplace confusion and consumer fraud."
Due to the lack of federal regulations, eight states have enacted their own plant-based labeling laws – Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, according to the Washington Times.
ACLU: Plant-based labeling legislation "unconstitutional"
Opponents of the bill and similar state laws from around the country argue that consumers as a whole are not confused when they purchase the imitation products. Arguments put forth by opponents such as the ACLU further claim that the push to limit plant-based labeling is an infringement upon manufacturers' First Amendment rights.
For example, Turtle Island Foods CEO Jaime Athos worked with the ACLU in early 2019 in an attempt to block an Arkansas state law requiring plant-based meat products to specifically use the phrase "imitation" in their labeling, referring to the legislation as "unconstitutional." The company manufactures plant-based meat substitute turkey products under the brand name Tofurky. No ruling has yet been made.
Athos argued that consumers buy plant-based products because they are "savvy and educated about the health and environmental consequences of eating animal products," rather than the claim that they have been "misled."
"Phrases like 'veggie burger' are well-established in common vernacular and help consumers choose a plant-based alternative that works best for their favorite dishes," he stated, referring to Tofurky's plant-based products with terms like "sausages" that are "familiar" to consumers.
Parallel debate in dairy industry
In late 2018, the dairy industry was beset with a similar argument surrounding products such as "lactose-free" milk, although studies found that consumers knew the difference between those made from cows and plants, according to Food Dive.
For example, the Food and Drug Administration notice soliciting public comments related to dairy labeling requirement changes garnered more than 11,000 responses within four months, 76% of which were in favor of allowing the industry to continue using traditional terms like "milk" and "yogurt," according to a separate Food Dive article.
With uncertainty surrounding the future of plant-based product labeling, companies should be poised to make any necessary changes at a moment's notice. Keep up with all the latest label-related news and check out our selection of label printers an accessories at Optimedia Labs' U.S. website or Canadian page.