What Is Meat? Missouri Is Working to Legislate Against Lab-Grown Alternatives

In Missouri, lawmakers with ties to the meat industry are seeking to pass a law that would prohibit the labeling of lab-grown meat as meat.

Test-tube burger. EDITORIAL USE ONLYA lab-grown meat burger made from Cultured Beef, which has been developed by Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Issue date: Monday August 5, 2013. Cultured Beef could help solve the coming food crisis and combat climate change. Photo credit should read: David Parry/PA Wire URN:17243372
A beef burger grown in a lab using stem cells harvested from a living cow is held for a photograph by Mark Post, a Dutch scientist, in London, U.K. on August 5, 2013. Photo: David Parry/PA Wire/AP

As more and more Americans are substituting meat in their diets with plant-based alternatives, Missouri lawmakers have introduced a meat industry-friendly law that would impose stringent labeling requirements for lab-grown meats.

HB 2607, authored by Missouri Reps. Jeff Knight and Warren Love, would outlaw anyone from selling lab-grown meats or meat substitutes labeled as meat. Specifically, the bill “prohibits misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.”

Critics say the legislation, which comes at a time when meat industry representatives have cited meat substitutes as a threat to their line of work, is favorable to businesses that raise and kill animals for the purpose of consumption.

The bill has passed two committees. When it passed the House Agriculture Policy Committee, it faced opposition from three House Democrats, including state Rep. Deb Lavender. She told The Intercept that the legislation is part of a wider pushback by lawmakers against consumer trends that are considered threatening to Missouri’s traditional meat industry.

“As other substitutes come forward in the marketplace, I think our agricultural community is getting concerned about the loss of share, share of the market that they may have,” she said.

Lavender is not convinced that consumers need the government to tell them what is and isn’t meat. “People are not going to mistake a veggie burger for a hamburger,” she said. “And so, to think that we need to have anybody selling foods in Missouri have a different label is just a little bit unreasonable.”

Love, who was elected to office in 2012, has ties to Missouri’s big ag community. He worked toward the successful passage of the 2014 “right-to-farm” amendment, which creates a right to farm under the Missouri Constitution. At the time, the Humane Society of the United States worked to defeat the amendment, charging that it would make it more difficult to legislate on issues like animal welfare and the environment. The amendment narrowly passed despite the opposition.

Love was also recognized by the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association for his dedication to the beef industry last year. Prior to the 2016 general election, his campaign received small donations from the Missouri Pork political action committee ($250) and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association’s PAC ($300).

Knight is a freshman member of the legislature and also received some backing from individuals working in the agriculture industry — including from Dwight Cox, a rancher at Cox Cattle Company, ($500) and the Missouri AG PAC ($250). Neither Knight nor Love responded to a request for comment.

The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association supports HB 2607. MCA member Andy McCorkill testified in favor of the legislation before Missouri’s House Agriculture Policy Committee last month, citing the threat from lab-grown meat.

“The bill simply prohibits misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry. That’s the entire bill. It ensures the integrity of the meat supply here in the state,” said McCorkill. “There are multimillion-dollar investments occurring in companies that are close to mass-producing laboratory-grown hamburgers and other products.”

Last December, Meat Industry Hall of Fame President Chuck Jolley warned in a blog post that plant-based meat substitutes are one of the “major challenges” that the agriculture industry faces in 2018.

“After years of hanging around the far distant fringes of even the most healthier-than-thou hippy co-ops and vegetarian prone supermarkets, faux burgers and holiday tofurky products are becoming mainstream,” he wrote. “Market researchers estimate total sales of dairy and meat alternatives will reach $25 billion in just two very short years.”

Indeed, a growing number of Americans are choosing to adopt cruelty-free diets, becoming vegetarians and vegans. The consumer research firm GlobalData noted in a report last year that the number of Americans self-identifying as vegans was at 6 percent, up from just 1 percent in 2014.

At the same time, scientific advancements mean that lab-grown meat will soon be a reality, with some experts predicting that lab-grown meats could be widely available in the near future. But growing public opposition to killing and eating animals means that America’s agribusinesses could lose market share to plant-based alternatives and lab-grown meat.

Ingrid Newkirk, president of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, told The Intercept that while it’s true that lawmakers supporting the legislation could conceivably promote the economic interests of some farmer constituents, there are other constituent interests involved as well.

“Times have changed, people don’t have proper health care. People are very worried about the rising rates of obesity and heart disease and cancer and diabetes and all these things. Those are constituents who need to be paid attention to, and it’s time that legislators stop doing favors for industries that are killing people and killing animals at the same time, which of course is one of our interests,” she said.

Lavender, the Democratic state representative, said she does not expect the bill to pass, noting that its lead sponsor, Knight, is a freshman member trying to make his mark as a lawmaker. “I think it might be a way for him to be able to show his constituency that he’s watching out for them,” she said.

Etymologically speaking, the word “meat” has not always necessarily meant animal flesh. It is derived from the Old English word “mete,” which more generally meant food.

This type of legislation may backfire against the lawmakers who want to deter Missourians from trying alternatives to traditionally harvested meat. As Jolley noted in his blog post, so-called ag-gag laws enacted in more than half a dozen states — which sought to prosecute activists who went undercover to film farm animal abuse — only made animal rights activism stronger. “Ag gag laws won’t/didn’t/can’t end their assault. If anything, those laws gave them serious ammunition in their public relations war against you (what is ‘big ag’ trying to hide?),” he wrote.

Top photo: A beef burger, grown in a lab using stem cells that were harvested from a living cow, is held for a photograph by Dutch scientist Mark Post in London, on Aug. 5, 2013.

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