I have received several questions recently about fake meat. Folks are asking me whether a state or federal approach is better in regulating and labeling these alternative protein products, i.e. fake meat.

Recently, the Unicameral considered LB 594, legislation introduced by an urban senator. As originally written, this bill said that advertising, promoting, labeling, or selling plant-based, lab-grown, or insect-based foods as meat would constitute a deceptive trade practice under state law.

While still in the Agriculture Committee, LB 594 was changed to remove the definition of what constitutes “meat.” In the minds of many, this was the only true “meat” of the bill. Instead, the amended bill would merely create a consumer complaint process. Shoppers would have to first notice deceptive labeling on grocery shelves.

Consumer protection is a very worthy public policy goal and one that I support. LB 594 would not offer any protection, because it would rely on the public to be the enforcers. And even if a consumer complaint is filed, there is no guarantee that action will be taken.

Folks want truth in labeling, including making sure that a product that says “beef” actually comes from livestock. Only action from the federal government will be effective in making that happen, because in Nebraska all our labeling of products must be overseen and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

My office has reached out to our Washington delegation several times to discuss this problem. Sen. Deb Fischer introduced legislation in Congress to better protect consumers and cattle producers. The Real Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully Act (the “Real MEAT Act”) would fight deceptive labeling in three ways:

1. Establish a federal definition of beef for food labels; products made to simulate beef (but not derived from cattle) must be labeled “imitation” and require an on-package disclaimer.

2. Require the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to notify USDA if an imitation meat product is determined to be misbranded.

3. If FDA fails to undertake enforcement within 30 days of notifying USDA, then enforcement authority is shifted to USDA.

It is useful to look at what the dairy industry has been through in recent years.

Almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, and a whole slew of plant-based products have eroded the market for “real” dairy products.

The FDA has laws on the books that require products to be labeled “milk” only if derived from actual lactating mammals. Otherwise, those products are supposed to be pulled from the shelves.

Unfortunately, our dairy producers are still waiting for FDA to actually enforce this law.

I strongly support the Real MEAT Act. I encourage Congress to pass it quickly. The tools to protect consumers and defend our state’s largest industry can only come from D.C. I have been monitoring this situation in Congress and look forward to reporting good news back to the district soon. I encourage Nebraskans to voice their support for Sen. Fischer’s bill to our federal lawmakers.

 

Tom Brewer represents Dist. 43 — most of the Sandhills — in the state legislature. Contact his office with any comments, questions, or concerns. Email tbrewer@leg.ne.gov, mail a letter to Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1423, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or call (402) 471-2628.