Earlier this month, Governor John Bel Edwards signed a law prohibiting producers of cell-based and vegan plant-based food companies from labeling their products with terms such as “meat” and “beef.”
SB 152 changes the definition of “meat” to mean only “a portion of beef, pork, poultry, alligator, farm-raised deer, turtle, domestic rabbit, crawfish, or shrimp that is edible by humans.” It also specifically excludes “synthetic product derived from a plant, insect, or other source,” and “cell-cultured food product grown in a laboratory.”
While some believe that this “Truth in Labeling” law is intended to protect consumers from deceptive labeling practices, companies who oppose the law are arguing that the restrictive language is a violation of their First Amendment corporate free speech right.
Similar laws have been passed in six other states and proposed in approximately 20 more, but according to a report by VegNews, Louisiana’s is considered one of the most restrictive. “Out of the many similar bills introduced this year, Louisiana’s law is the broadest, censoring a wide range of food labels including plant-based meat,” said food advocacy group Good Food Institute (GFI) staff attorney Nicole Manu.
In Missouri, the Missouri Meat Advertising Law met heavy opposition, in spite of allowing modifiers such as “plant-based” so that vegan food companies could continue to operate with minimal changes. GFI together with Tofurkey, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a lawsuit against the state, saying that the law unfairly discourages competition and criminalizes free and truthful speech.
According to Manu, the laws are simply a way to censor their competitors, fearing the rising popularity of plant-based vegan products and wanting to protect their state’s conventional agriculture industry.
“Consumers understand the labels of plant-based meat,” Manu says. “Plant-based food labels pair conventional meat terms with a modifier like ‘plant-based’ or ‘veggie’ in order to communicate to consumers that the food is functionally similar to conventional meat but is instead plant-based. For example, a product labeled as ‘veggie burger’ signals to consumers that it is plant-based but can be grilled, placed between a bun, and topped with mustard and ketchup.”
In addition to changing the labeling requirements for vegan and lab-grown food products, the law also prevents labeling a food product as rice when it is not rice or derived from (i.e. cauliflower rice popular with people following the Keto diet), and labeling a food product as sugar when it is not “an unaltered plant-based simple sugar or sucrose.”
The law will be enforced by Louisiana’s agriculture commissioner and carries civil penalties up to $500 per day for violations.
Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist and editor whose work has been featured in publications such as The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, Examiner.com, and others. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_