We have blogged several times, most recently on October 15, 2019, about the so-called meatless meat statutes. These statutes attempt to protect producers of meat from competition from plant- or lab-based foods that are engineered to look and taste like real meat. The stated rationale is to prevent purveyors of meatless meat from misleading consumers. As is the case with many consumer protection statutes, the real objective is to protect competitors.
Two congressmen have now introduced a bill styled the Real Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully (Real Meat) Act. The Real Meat Act would require producers of meatless meat to require the use of the word “imitation” immediately before or immediately after the word “meat” plus a statement that the product does not contain meat.
We think this bill is a solution in search of a problem. Producers of meatless meat make clear that it is derived either from plants or from laboratories. Indeed, for most consumers of such products, the cell- or plant-based origin of the product is a feature, not a bug. For reasons of health, animal cruelty or the environment, consumers of meatless meat want a product not derived from actual animals.
Aside from Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming have all passed meatless meat statutes, with varying terms. Similar bills are pending in several other states. The Montana statute is the most far-reaching: it prohibits calling lab-based food “meat,” or any variation thereof such as steak or hamburger.
As we have reported, the Arkansas and Missouri statutes are in litigation and we expect that other state statutes will also be challenged on First Amendment grounds. Those challenges will likely succeed. Producers of meatless meat have every incentive to disclose its origin, in part to avoid claims of misrepresentation, in part as a key part of their marketing strategy. As we have previously blogged, the Missouri statute survived an initial challenge only because the State rewrote the law to comply with the First Amendment.