As the nation continues to face the novel coronavirus pandemic, Republican lawmakers in Texas have established a truly baffling set of priorities. As Daily Kos continues to cover, for example, Texans are facing an onslaught of anti-trans bills at the state level, including girls’ sports and gender-affirming health care. In a different, though also head-scratching, direction, Texas state lawmakers approved House Bill 316, which would bar plant-based foods from bearing labels like “meat,” “pork,” “poultry,” or “beef,” as reported by the Dallas Morning News.
Interestingly, the word “burger” is not off-limits. This point is probably a relief to companies including Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers, both of which use the word “burger” in many of their products. Unsurprisingly, both of these companies, as well as the Plant Based Foods Association and Alliance for Plant Based Inclusion opposed the bill. But who supported it, and why? Let’s look at the logic, and the bigger picture issues.
And for support? Also surprising no one, a number of livestock companies, as well as the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Pork Producers Association, and the Texas Poultry Federation all support the bill.
What is plant-based? In terms of this bill, lab-grown products count as plant-based, as do products made from plants (ex: beans or legumes) or insects. Essentially, if it doesn’t have animal meat in it, it can’t get the “meat” label.
But, if you’re curious about the specifics of how “meat” is defined in the bill, both beef and chicken must contain “any edible portion of a formerly live and whole cattle/chicken carcass, not derived by synthetic or artificial means.” Similarly, pork means “any edible portion of a formerly live and whole swine carcass, not derived by synthetic or artificial means.”
Why is this an issue? According to Republicans, the bill is supposed to help consumers so they aren’t misled or confused by labels on products. For example, so people do not buy plant-based beef when they’re trying to buy animal beef.
As Democratic State Rep. Gene Wu pointed out, however, it’s questionable how much of an issue this subject really is, and whether legislation is opening the state up to unnecessary litigation. As the next step for this particular bill, another vote will take place in the House, and if it passes, it will head to the Texas state senate.
In the bigger picture, we know that the climate crisis is ongoing, people are hungry, and innovation is on the rise in the world of plant-based foods. Consumers absolutely do deserve to have fair and accurate labeling (especially in the case of people who have dietary issues or food allergies), but that said, this situation reeks of the meat industrial complex trying to stomp out access to plant-based alternatives. It also reeks of officials trying to make non-issues into issues to distract from actual issues: like the coronavirus.
Most people will never go fully vegan (or even vegetarian) and that’s okay—but people incorporating even some plant-based foods and proteins (even simple options, like beans) into their diets is great for the environment. Also, it’s long past time for our government to subsidize plant-based options (like, again, beans or lentils) the way it does meat options.