‘Fake meat’ is at the center of food fight in Missouri

Don’t call it meat if it doesn’t come from livestock or poultry, a new Missouri law says.

The state law that went into effect Tuesday prohibits food companies from marketing products that are not “derived from harvested production livestock or poultry” as meat. And violators could receive a fine of up to $1,000 and spend up to a year in jail.

The law would apply to meat substitutes such as soy-based, plant-based meat, which have become increasingly popular in recent years, and also “clean” meat, which is produced by growing and multiplying cells in a lab and is close to hitting the consumer market.

The new measure is drawing backlash from a range of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Good Food Institute and the company that produces Tofurky. The groups immediately filed a legal challenge in federal court saying the state law attempts to “stifle the growing grocery category of plant-based meat.”

“As more and more consumers are making the conscious choice to remove animals from their plates, Missouri is putting its thumb on the scale to unfairly benefit the meat industry and silence alternative producers,” Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. “This law violates various constitutional principles, including free speech — which should be a concern for everyone, regardless of diet.”

But to the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, which supported the bill, the issue is “all about marketing with integrity.”

“MCA will not stand for laboratory grown food or plant based meat alternatives to be marketed as something it’s not,” the association said on its website regarding its legislative priorities for the year.

Meat-substitute supporters claim their companies have never violated regulations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission that prohibit the misrepresentation of food products.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office said the state is ready to enforce the law, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“The attorney general’s office will carefully review all referrals from the Department of Agriculture and will take legal action as appropriate under the circumstances to protect Missouri consumers,” spokeswoman Mary Compton told the Post-Dispatch newspaper, which is also a CNN affiliate.