‘Plant-based meat’ label debate results in House bill aiming for stricter requirements

By: - March 2, 2022 2:28 pm

While holding up an image of a Beyond Meat label, Aaron Popelka, vice president of legal and government affairs with the Kansas Livestock Association, testifies in support of House Bill 2530 during a legislative hearing for the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 15. The bill would require specific language use on labels for “imitation meats,” like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

While there are strict regulations on meat labeling, plant-based imitation products have none. The Kansas Livestock Association wants to change that.

House Bill 2530 would add new definitions to the prohibition on misbranded foods in the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. This bill was brought before the Committee on Agriculture on Feb. 15. Any meatless food product that contains a “meat term” would be considered misbranded under the legislation, unless it the label uses the word “imitation.”

Proponents of the bill believe that companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are purposely trying to mislead consumers, said Aaron Popelka, vice president of legal and government affairs with the Kansas Livestock Association.

“When you look at some of the labels that they put on these things are very deceptive,” Popelka said. “Part of it is that they’re trying to sell it, but part of it is they’re trying to sell at the expense and confusion of consumers.”

Eric Stafford, vice president of government affairs with the Kansas Chamber, said companies selling plant-based products are concerned with the environmental impact passing this bill would have.

“This bill would put restrictions in place that would require our members to print labels specific to the state of Kansas,” Stafford said, representing bill opponents.

Kansas is not the first state to address labeling requirements for “imitation meats.”

Eric Stafford, vice president of government affairs with the Kansas Chamber, testifies against House Bill 2530. “I think the big hang-up is in the words ‘plant-based.’ (The proponents) feel that that’s misleading,” Stafford said. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

“There are states, I think 15 or so states, that have passed some form of labeling requirement, that our folks took the best practices of those states and presented it in the fall to the proponents of the bill. And (they were) basically told, ‘No, we can’t do it,’ ” Stafford said.

In their fall proposal, the bill’s opponents used the term “plant-based,” which caused their proposal to be rejected. The use of the term “plant-based” creates consumer confusion, Popelka said.

During the hearing, Rep. Kent Thompson, R-Iola, asked Stafford why the opponents were so adamant about the use of the term “plant-based.”

“So I’m totally clear on this — you’re telling me they still like that level of deception, they can’t come out on their labeling and say, ‘This is not meat,’ ” Thompson said.

In response, Stafford said further discussion about the fall proposal was a “nonstarter” between the proponents and opponents.

Under the already existing Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the consequences of violating its provisions include a fee of up to $1,000 per day.

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Margaret Mellott
Margaret Mellott

Margaret Mellott is a recent Emporia State University graduate of communication and journalism. During their time at ESU, they spent all four years on the campus paper, The Bulletin. She also spent one year with The Campus Ledger at Johnson County Community College. Outside of collegiate journalism, Mellott has also worked on projects for Vintage KC Magazine and Humanities Kansas.

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