There are serious issues that sound silly when you say them out loud. For instance, this sentence: Tofurky and the American Civil Liberties Union are among a coalition challenging a new Missouri law that regulates what food products can be called “meat.”
No disrespect to the company, but it’s hard not to giggle when you hear about Tofurky lawyering up.
But the silliness of Tofukey’s portmanteau quickly subsides when you realize what’s at stake — or in this case, steak.
The debate over what can and can’t be called meat has been going on for a good part of this year. Traditional meat organizations have seen the investment and advancements in lab-grown meat (or cultured meat) and as so many threatened incumbents do, they have turned to government regulation. While the FDA held a public meeting about the naming issue, Missouri went ahead and became the first state to pass a law outlining what could be called meat.
Back in May, the Missouri Senate passed legislation that included Senate Bill No. 977, which prohibits “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” That law goes into effect today, and violators could be fined up to $1,000 and be imprisoned for a year.
The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association (MCA), which supported the bill, has the following statement on its website: “Major companies are investing in developing laboratory grown meat and calling it ‘beef.’ MCA will push for a protection of its nomenclature by protecting the word beef to only include food derived from actual livestock production. This is all about marketing with integrity. MCA will not stand for laboratory grown food or plant based meat alternatives to be marketed as something it’s not.”
Part of the argument from the MCA and similar agricultural organizations around the country is that alterna-meats will cause confusion among consumers. Sure, shoppers may not accidentally grab a Tofurky at Thanksgiving, but as lab meat makes its way to market, there are legitimate labeling issues at play. What should the labeling requirement be for meat grown in a lab? Beyond Meat likes to sell its burger patties in the meat aisle — does having “meat” in its name cause confusion?
While its moniker may not befuddle people, Tofurky has nonetheless joined up with the ACLU, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Good Food Institute to take on this legislation. Among the complaints this coalition has is that the law plays favorites to benefit the meat industry, violates free speech, and violates a law preventing discrimination against out-of-state companies. Additionally, they argue that the law itself is so vague that it’s hard to follow.
Again, on the surface, it seems silly to make such a big ado about meat. But millions of dollars are being invested in lab-grown meat startups that are poised to drastically change what and how we eat meat — er, cultured animal tissue. And as the FDA has pointed out, it’s not just meat that has skin in the game. The government is looking at what can be called “milk,” and that itself will extend into what can be called “cheese” or “yogurt,” etc.
But passing a law to protect the past isn’t going to stop progress.
Smart companies have seen the writing on the wall and decided it’s better to join ’em rather than try to beat ’em with a legislative stick. Chicken giant, Tyson, is leading the way with numerous investments in both lab-grown and plant-based meat companies, and Cargill has gotten in on the cultured meat game with an investment in Memphis Meats.
Already there are glimmers of hope that we can work through this potential morass. Memphis Meats, a leader in the lab-grown meat space, teamed up with the North American Meat Institute to send a letter to President Trump urging him to “clarify the regulatory framework for cell-based meat and poultry products,” and suggesting that the FDA and USDA collaborate on oversight of the emerging cultured meat industry. Sure, it’s only a letter, but it’s two sides from across the aisle on this debate working together. If we can get other groups to do the same, the results won’t be silly at all.