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Simon: Meat censorship on labels is excessive

A new law in Arkansas goes into effect today that will require all agricultural products that are edible by humans to follow “truth labeling” rules. To put the meaning of truth labeling simply, a product cannot be misbranded or have ingredients missing on the label.
The law prohibits falsely labeling a product as meat, rice, beef, or pork, as well as any term “that has been used or defined historically in reference to a specific agricultural product.”
Labeling products such as veggie burgers, almond milk and cauliflower rice will simply have to be done differently in Arkansas than just about everywhere else.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never had the pleasure of knowing there’s “rice” made out of cauliflower out there. But apparently that’s a pretty touchy subject in Arkansas, the nation’s top rice producer.
The new law has stirred up a lot of negative feedback from all over the country, especially from Oregon-based Tofurky Co. The company produces plant-based meat alternatives and, feeling the law violates free speech rights, has filed a lawsuit with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Arkansas isn’t even the first state to pass a meat censoring law. In fact, South Dakota passed a similar law in March preventing the mislabeling of non-meat products.
Honestly, even coming from a beef production background myself, I fail to see how calling a plant-based burger a veggie burger is really hindering anyone. That includes animal producers who feel words like “meat” should be off limits to plant-based meat products.
For example, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year that “beef” and “meat” only be used for animals “born, raised and harvested in the traditional manner.”
As someone who grew up on a beef cattle ranch, I can agree with that statement to a point. The people who produce beef work hard to raise high-quality cattle and I definitely share the USCA’s pride in that. I agree that plant-based meat products or lab-grown proteins are not meat.
Although, if the purpose of taking words like “meat” away from companies like Tofurky Co., is for marketing a product, I’m unsure that’s entirely fair.
I also don’t think it’s fair for plant-based meat producers to take advantage of beef producers’ trade deals or to slam the industry at every turn, but I digress.
Arkansas Representative David Hillman, who created the new law, stated that companies who label products as veggie burgers or almond milk are just trying to confuse consumers.
And they might be. There are certainly plenty of food companies out there that love to hate the people who grow the food said companies sell. I hate such marketing tactics.
On that note, I often hear as an agriculture communications major that people who are removed from rural life may go much of their lives not really understanding where their food comes from.
However, I don’t think that means there are millions of people that will mistake almond milk for cow’s milk. I refuse to believe there are millions of people who believe almonds lactate!
I’m all for avoiding confusing people who just want to buy food they like to eat. By all means, label your food correctly. But correctness is different than, in my opinion, over-labeling.
After all, the United States tied for third in the 2018 Global Food Security Index. We already have some of the safest food products in the world, so why is it suddenly so important that we pound it into the heads of consumers that plant-based products don’t have meat in them?
I give consumers more credit than I feel the Arkansas truth labeling law does. I’m a bit unsure as to how food labels became a hot topic at a time when far bigger concerns in our world could be given attention.
Maybe more of our focus could go into developing ways to grow crops and raise animals to better suit our growing world? That way we have enough food for everyone to put labels on in the future, meat or not.