The dispute over the meaning of meat- and dairy-related terms continued in 2019, with more states passing bans on the use of terms implying animal-derived products, such as “burger” or “milk,” to describe plant-based products. Nebraska, Arizona and Washington considered bans, and Arkansas’ ban was targeted with a challenge from Tofurky that has resulted in a temporary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the statute against the company. Similarly, Mississippi proposed amendments to its meat-defining law after a “vegan bacon” and “vegan chorizo” company argued that the law “harms society.” A Missouri court, meanwhile, denied the Good Food Institute’s and American Civil Liberties Union’s motion for a preliminary injunction to enforce the state’s meat-labeling statute. In addition, a bipartisan bill introduced in November, the Real MEAT Act, would define meat-related terms if the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “fail[] to take appropriate action.”

The issue has extended across the Atlantic, where the EU agriculture committee approved a measure that would limit the use of “steak,” “sausage,” “burger” and “escalope,” among other terms, to only describe “edible parts of the animals.” A committee of the U.K. House of Lords submitted a letter arguing against the approval in August, arguing that the “Veggie tubes proposal [is] a misteak.”

Milk has inspired a similar dispute, with U.S. representatives urging FDA in February to enforce “regulations defining what may be labeled a dairy product, to combat the proliferation of imitation and substitute dairy products in the marketplace that undermine FDA regulations by using standardized dairy terms on non-dairy products.” The National Milk Producers Federation submitted a citizen petition arguing the same point.

The efforts to define “meat” and “dairy” terms coincided with—and perhaps responded to—the rising popularity of plant-based Impossible Burgers, as several fast-food restaurants released their versions of the product. One consumer tried Burger King’s Impossible Whopper and was surprised to learn that the product is not vegan because it is cooked on the same surfaces as traditional Whoppers, according to his complaint. A New Zealand pizzeria triggered an investigation after it sold pizzas with “medium rare burger patty” that used plant-based products rather animal-derived meat without warning customers of the change; although no issues were reported, many consumers argued for transparency in ingredients because the unassuming customers could have had allergies to the plant-based products. The Center for Food Safety also took action against the Impossible Burger, arguing to FDA that the product should not be available in grocery stores because the agency did not respond to the organization’s objections to the approval of a color additive used in Impossible Burgers.

While lab-grown meat is not yet ready for the consumer market, USDA and FDA announced in early 2019 that they will “jointly oversee the production of human food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.