The state of Arkansas is taking steps to protect hapless meat-eaters from the perils of accidentally eating plants by banning the term “veggie burger” and a number of other phrases for plant-based food substitutes from commercial labels.
The state’s new “truth in labelling” law prohibits food-makers from labelling plant-based products as meat, milk or any other term that “has been used or defined historically in reference to a specific agricultural product.”
The law also bans labelling one plant-based product as a substitute for another, such as cauliflower “rice.”
State Rep. David Hillman, who authored the bill, says “cauliflower rice” and “veggie burger” are terms designed to confuse consumers.
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“The only way they can get people to try their product is to confuse them,” Hillman told The Associated Press. Hillman is a rice farmer, so he stands to directly benefit from a law that targets cauliflower rice.
Hillman specifically called out cauliflower rice in discussing the new legislation. “I like it. There’s nothing wrong with it, except that it’s not rice,” he said.
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Hillman failed to explain why the term “veggie burger” might be “confusing” to anyone.
The law came into effect on Wednesday. Companies that don’t comply can be fined up to US$1,000 for each violation.
Hillman’s legislation is already facing a legal challenge from Tofurkey Co., which filed a lawsuit against it on Monday. The suit claims that banning use of the word “meat” on certain products violates the American right to free speech.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union are also part of the Tofurkey legal challenge.
Nearly a dozen other states in agricultural areas of the U.S. have passed similar “meat label censorship” laws, amid a growing trend toward plant-based alternatives for some foods.
However, those states are facing an uphill battle as plant-based meat products move closer to widespread acceptance. Plant-based burgers have become particularly popular this year thanks to the commercial success of Beyond Meat, which became a multi billion-dollar business in May.