Earlier this summer, the Missouri legislature passed a bill requiring the state to abide by its definition of meat in an effort to prohibit misrepresenting any product as meat if it doesn’t come from a slaughtered animal. This week, a coalition of organizations is challenging the law, which went into effect Aug. 28.
Missouri’s current state statutes require that the term “meat” be defined as any “edible portion of livestock, poultry or captive cervid carcass or part thereof” and that any “meat product” be defined as “anything containing meat intended for or capable of use for human consumption, which is derived, in whole or in part, from livestock, poultry or captive cervids,” according to state statute 265.300 to 265.470.
Mike Deering, executive director of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Assn., said the legislation was not an attempt to be anti-meat alternatives; rather, it shows that the labeling can misrepresent these products or lie to consumers.
He said if the companies producing these products abide by the definition, then consumers can know what they’re getting. “There’s demand for plant-based products and demand for alternative proteins. That’s okay, but let’s make darn sure we’re keeping the trust of consumers by being honest with them,” Deering said.
However, consumer groups see the legislation as an attempt to stifle plant-based and cell-cultured meat products.
The ACLU of Missouri, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Good Food Institute (GFI) and plant-based protein pioneer Tofurky filed the complaint this week alleging that the law violates the Dormant Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state companies to protect in-state meat producers and also violates the Due Process Clause by being so vague that it’s impossible for companies to know what is and is not legal.
“Corporations – just like individuals – have the First Amendment right to free, truthful speech,” ACLU of Missouri legal director Tony Rothert said. “This law is unconstitutional because it makes truthful speech a crime.”
According to the lawsuit, the coalition believes that the law infringes on the First Amendment by “preventing the clear and accurate labeling of plant-based and clean meat products and denying fair and honest competition in the marketplace,” GFI said in a blog post.
“Missouri is putting its thumb on the scale to unfairly benefit the meat industry and silence alternative producers,” Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director Stephen Wells added. “This law violates various constitutional principles, including free speech – which should be a concern for everyone, regardless of diet.”
“Americans don’t like censorship, and they don’t like the government picking winners and losers in the marketplace,” GFI executive director Bruce Friedrich explained. “We’re confident that the court will overturn this anticompetitive and unconstitutional law.”
Meanwhile, Deering said the Missouri Cattlemen’s Assn. is working with state leadership, the governor’s office and the department of agriculture to ensure that the intent of the legislation is as clear as possible and that the enforcement matches the intent of the bill.