Alternative meat labelling hits a raw nerve in US cattle states

Ranchers seek ban on using ‘meat’ to describe plant-derived or lab-grown substitutes

 Alternative meats could grow to become 10 per cent of the $1.4 trillion (€1.27 trillion) global meat industry over the next 10 years, threatening sales of beef, pork and chicken. Photograph: Lauri Patterson/Getty Images

Alternative meats could grow to become 10 per cent of the $1.4 trillion (€1.27 trillion) global meat industry over the next 10 years, threatening sales of beef, pork and chicken. Photograph: Lauri Patterson/Getty Images

 

US states that raise cattle and poultry are trying to fence in the fast-growing alternative meat industry.

Wyoming, Oklahoma and South Dakota are among the states working to control the labelling of meat substitutes as the products appear in more restaurants and supermarkets.

Their efforts address an industry that threatens sales of beef, pork and chicken. Alternative meats could grow to become 10 per cent of the $1.4 trillion (€1.27 trillion) global meat industry over the next 10 years, according to Barclays.

The alternative meat industry was “terribly unfortunate. I can’t support it”, Mark Gordon, Wyoming’s governor and a cattle rancher, said in an interview. “Do they present a threat? I believe they do. I think that’s their intent,” he added.

Mr Gordon this year signed a Bill into law that bans the word “meat” from being used if the meat in question does not come from an animal. A dozen states have passed such statutes since last year, with more legislation introduced elsewhere.

The laws come as plant-based protein producers strive for the taste, texture and juiciness of ground beef. Their products are now available in fast-food chains such as Burger King and in the meat aisles of grocery stores.

Market capitalisation

Beyond Meat, a leading producer, has a market capitalisation of $9.2 billion, or more than 50 times revenue, after making an initial public offering in May. Impossible Foods, a competitor, says its mission is “making meat using plants, so that we never have to use animals again”.

Such messages rankle in US states that depend on animal agriculture.

“My response to that is you are going to also be killing communities, the ecology of some of these places,” Mr Gordon said.

Among the states passing labelling laws, Oklahoma, Missouri, South Dakota, Montana, Kentucky and North Dakota rank in the top 10 for beef cattle inventory, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and South Carolina are in the top 10 for broiler chickens.

Some of the laws address plant-based meat substitutes, while others regulate only cultured meats grown from tissue cells, which are not yet on the market.

If you are able to grow this stuff rather than raise cattle, you are going to turn this entire market on its head

Arkansas’s law declares that the word “meat” shall not include a “synthetic product derived from a plant, insect, or other source” or a “product grown in a laboratory from animal cells”. Anyone caught branding these products as meat is subject to a $1,000 fine.

Montana’s law, the “Real Meat Act”, makes clear that the definition of a hamburger “does not include cell-cultured edible products”.

“The cattlemen are quite concerned,” said Doug Farquhar, programme director for environmental health at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “If you are able to grow this stuff rather than raise cattle, you are going to turn this entire market on its head.”

The state of Missouri was the first to pass a labelling law in 2018. It limits use of the term “meat” to livestock and poultry meat. Missouri has since been sued.

‘Label censorship’

“The aim of the statute is to protect the animal agriculture industry from competition from plant-based meat and clean meat producers,” according to the complaint filed by plaintiffs including the Good Food Institute, a plant-based foods organisation.

“We call them label censorship laws, because that’s exactly what they’re doing,” said Nicole Manu, staff attorney at the Good Food Institute. Two other lawsuits are also pending against Arkansas and Mississippi.

In Wyoming, which has more cattle than people, alternative proteins have made inroads. Epic Egg, a restaurant a block from the State Capitol building in Cheyenne, began serving Beyond Meat burgers in February, said Jessica Rehling, a supervisor.

“People have really enjoyed it,” Ms Rehling said. “We have quite a few people who order it and ask if we’re sure it’s a veggie thing and not a meat product.”

With today’s science you can create almost anything in a lab. That does not make it a replacement

Jim Magagna, executive vice-president at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the oldest cattle lobby in the state, said he had stopped visiting Epic Egg since the plant-based burgers arrived. “I like my veggies but I want them to be veggies, not my burger,” he said.

In the grasslands outside Gillette, Wyoming, Gerry and Gwen Geis raise cattle and sheep. They offered a wary opinion of plant-based competition.

“Realistically, with today’s science you can create almost anything in a lab. That does not make it a replacement. It’s not the same thing,” said Gerry Geis, a life-long rancher.

Gwen Geis, his wife, added: “We have nothing against them. We just want to keep the playing field level.”

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019