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Texas requires 'clear labeling' of plant-based foods starting Sept. 1

Article-Texas requires 'clear labeling' of plant-based foods starting Sept. 1

Beyond Meat The Beyond Breakfast Sausage packaging clearly labels the product as plant-based.
Claiming that 'confusion at the meat counter is abundant,' the Texas Farm Bureau identified 'truth in labeling' as a legislative priority.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed a bill requiring clear labeling of analogs of meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, as well as cultivated meat. 

The law, which takes effect Sept. 1, requires plant-based or fermented analogs of meat, poultry, seafood and eggs to have a prominent label with type at least the same size as the text around it labeling products as “analogue,” “meatless,” “plant-based,” “made from plants” or with similar clarifying language. A similar requirement in the state law for cultivated meat requires that any food product made from harvesting animal cells replicated to produce tissue have a similar label. The bill suggests the label say “cell-cultured,” “lab-grown” or similar language.

The Texas Farm Bureau, an advocacy group of farmers and ranchers that supported the measure, named truth in labeling as one of its legislative priorities this year. It said on its website the bill would benefit farmers, ranchers and consumers.

“Confusion at the meat counter is abundant for all consumers. Labels and packaging for meat and alternative meat products are often similar and sometimes indistinguishable from each other,” an article about the bill on the Texas Farm Bureau’s website states.

In discussing the labeling issue, the Texas Farm Bureau and Texas Cattle Feeders repeatedly cited a 2020 survey of 1,200 Texas consumers that found one in five—20% of respondents—who had purchased plant-based products felt misled by its label, noting they had thought the product contained real meat.

What happens when Texas’s law takes effect on Sept. 1 is an open question. It seems many companies are already complying with the new law. Meat, dairy and egg analog companies already include labeling that specifically says their products are made from plants or another substance. These companies have said they want consumers to know their products are not meat, an attribute that is a selling point for some shoppers.

As for cultivated meat, it’s unlikely that any state labeling law will be enforced. Federal labeling law supersedes that of individual states. The USDA and the FDA, which are jointly regulating cultivated meat, are working toward devising labeling rules for the new category. While there is no specific timeline for that regulatory work to be done, it is likely these rules will be in place before cultivated meat products become widely available to consumers.

Similar action in other states

Texas’s new law is similar to ones signed a few years ago in several other states. These laws were intended to more keenly differentiate between traditional slaughtered meat and similar products made from plants or by fermentation—or those that are not yet available made from cultured cells.

As some of these laws started to take effect, advocacy groups including the Good Food Institute, legal organizations such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund and plant-based meat companies including Tofurky, have fought back in the courtroom. So far, litigation in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas has yielded favorable decisions for meat alternative companies, while cases in Missouri and Oklahoma are pending.

In the cases that have ended in decisions, courts have ruled the laws do not apply to any current company making meat analogs. The products on the market today have clear labeling, rulings have found. In Arkansas, the court found the law infringes on plant-based meat companies’ First Amendment rights “to convey meaningful, helpful information to consumers about the products they are purchasing.”

Drake Jamali, a legislative specialist at the Good Food Institute, said Texas’s law has “requirements that are premature, unnecessary, and could create severe economic impacts for small businesses. Simply put, Texas consumers are not confused about the foods they purchase and this law will do nothing to protect consumers.”

Jamali said GFI and other stakeholders are continuing to review the legality of the new law.

Food Dive logoA version of this piece originally appeared on Food Dive, an Informa sister website. Visit the site for information on manufacturing, packaging, ingredients and more.

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