SAN FRANCISCO – The cattle ranchers and growers offices of America are not going to give up their grip on the word meat without fighting.
In recent weeks, groups in the beef and agricultural industry have persuaded lawmakers from more than a dozen states to pass laws banning the use of the word meat to describe burgers and sausages created from herbal ingredients or grown in the laboratory. Just this week, new bills on meat labeling have been introduced in Arizona and Arkansas.
These meat substitutes may look and taste and even bleed like meat, but livestock keepers want to make sure the new competition will not be able to use the meat label.
"The word meat, in my opinion, should mean a product from a living animal," said Jim Dinklage, breeder and president of the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, who testified in favor of the legislation on Labeling of meat in its state.
The push for national labeling laws bears witness to the speed with which start-ups such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which produce hamburgers from herbal ingredients, have developed. to challenge the traditional meat industry. Sales of herbal meat substitutes rose 22 percent to $ 1.5 billion last year, according to Euromonitor International, a market research firm.
Other start-up companies are increasingly able to create chicken nuggets and sausages from cultured meat cells in a laboratory. Even though they are not yet commercially viable, traditional meat producers fear that laboratory-grown meat will become an inexpensive alternative with reduced regulatory oversight.
"About a year and a half ago, it was not on my radar," said Mark Dopp, Regulatory Affairs Manager at the North American Meat Association. "Suddenly, it gets closer. This will probably happen in the near future and we need to put in place a regulatory system to deal with it. "
Meat producers say they do not want to lose control of labeling, unlike the dairy industry, which has lost its battle to prevent almond and soybean producers from using the word milk in their drinks. Egg producers and even mayonnaise have been facing similar fights.
"Almonds do not produce milk," said Bill Pigott, representative of the Republican State of Mississippi, who drafted legislation in that country. He owns a farm that produces both dairy products and beef. But his concerns go beyond labeling milk with almond and soy liquids.
"The fake meat produced in the lab is a bit more like a science fiction-type agreement that concerns me more," said Pigott.
He introduced his bill in January after the local livestock breeder association contacted him. It has been adopted in the House of States and is awaiting debate in the Senate.
Different legislative efforts are likely to face hardship, not just from vegetarians.
A bill in Virginia was rejected after legislators received a letter from the National Grocers Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and the Plant Based Foods Association, which defended increasingly popular products. Requiring "unknown new packaging would only confuse buyers and frustrate retailers at a time when demand for such options is at its highest level," he said. This figure increases by 23% per year.
The most restrictive proposal in Washington State would make it a crime to sell lab meat and prohibit state funds from being used for research in the region, as some lawmakers claim that knows too little about the subject to consider it safe. The bill has not yet been put to a vote.
Surprising coalitions are forming around the future of laboratory meat. The North American Meat Association has stated that it wants laboratory-grown meat to be labeled "meat" to prevent new products from circumventing regulations for traditional meat. And most of the big meat companies have stayed out of the debate. Some of them, notably Tyson and Cargill, have invested in meat production start-ups in the laboratory.
In Nebraska, Carol Blood, a Democratic senator from the suburbs of Omaha, drafted a bill on meat labeling. Despite her last name, Mrs. Blood has been a vegan for years.
She added that she had decided to continue on her bill after hearing two women in her local Fresh Thyme supermarket, expressing confusion over whether a burgers package Beyond the meat contained flesh animal.
"I do not care what is written hamburger – I care about what is said" it's meat, "said Ms. Blood" I've got this thing that sticks to the throat when people try to be misleading. "
Beyond Meat is actually produced with no meat. It draws its bloody appearance from beet juice.
"We provide the consumer with herbal meat, and we think it's reasonable for the consumer and for us to qualify our products as herbal meats," said Beyond Meat's executive director, Ethan Brown, in an email.
Last year, Missouri passed the first law prohibiting companies from "misrepresenting a product as non-livestock or harvested production."
This law has been challenged in court by Tofurky, a company specializing in tofu and other soy-based foods, as well as the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.
Sarah Sorscher, who works on regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said there was little evidence that consumers were baffled by the labeling of alternative meat companies.
"We think that the question of whether they use a term like" meat "is an indirect indicator of this larger problem, namely that the meat industry is concerned about the competition of these products" said Ms. Sorscher. "The invoices do not seem to solve a problem in the market. It is a question of fighting against competition. "
The Missouri authorities assured Beyond Meat that its labels clearly indicated that the product was not meat and that it would not contravene the new law.
The Good Food Institute, which represents both herbal meat businesses and cell-based meat start-ups, has fought for employees and lobbyists to visit capital cities where laws are in the study.
Jessica Almy, Director of Organizational Policy, said she thought most state laws and proposals would be made redundant if the Department of Agriculture participated in the labeling of the meat grown in the laboratory, which he had promised to do last year. . However, it argues that state-imposed labels could create more confusion for consumers.
"There is no honest way to refer to it without using meat terms," Ms. Almy said.
Mr. Dinklage, the Nebraska breeder, said he also wanted to provide clarification to consumers. He also wants to protect a livelihood that is increasingly difficult.
"Imagine what it will actually cost in a lab, compared to a ranching operation," he said. "It would cost a lot less and it would make me bankrupt."