Meat alternative producers challenge new Missouri law over terminology

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COLUMBIA - A law designed to help clear up any confusion for buyers of meat or meat-like products is now at the center of a legal battle.

This spring, Missouri passed House Bill 697 that prohibits, "misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry." The law took effect Tuesday, but it faces a challenge from producers of meat-like products.

Tofurky, a major plant-based major brand that sells meat-like alternative foods, is part of a lawsuit challenging the law. The Good Food Institute, a lobbying group for meat alternatives, is also part of the suit.

Kalle Lemone, co-owner of Nourish Cafe & Market, feels no matter the label says customers should be able to clearly understand what they're consuming.

"I think the most important thing is that whoever is making the food is extremely transparent with their ingredients and aren't trying to misguide anyone. And letting them know what is exactly in the food is more important than if it's a plant-based meat or an actual animal meat," Lemone said.

Jaime Athos, Tofurkey CEO, says the company should be able to label their product as meat. 

"Tofurky and partners filed a lawsuit in Missouri seeking to defend our right – and the right of our plant-based protein peers – to describe our products using the term “meat” (as long as the packaging clarifies the ingredients)," Athos said.

Athos also feels the law shows a lack of consumer sophistication and will slow the growth and accessibility of plant-based proteins.

"I feel it’s vital to champion the rights of our entire industry and stand-up for our market position. Demand for plant-based proteins has sky-rocketed domestically and abroad. As brands and products enter the market we must assure a level playing field for all manufacturers," Athos said.

BJ Tanksley, a Missouri Farm Bureau Director, said the bureau is one of the organizations supporting the bill. He feels some of the meat-like product labels are misleading.

"Consumers should know what they're purchasing," Tanksley said.

The bill also discusses the difference between lab-based meat products and meat made from animals.