TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit producers of meat alternatives from using certain meat-related terms, such as jerky or burger, in their marketing.
The bill contains 22 terms that producers of plant-based or other meat alternative foods could not use, unless they label the product as "imitation" or include disclaimers that the products contains no meat, The Kansas City Star reported.
The issue comes before Kansas lawmakers as several states, including Missouri, are considering or approving bills that regulate marketing for meat alternatives.
The Kansas livestock industry argues the bill would ensure fair competition at a time when more consumers are turning to plant-based and other alternative products. The bill also would make clear to consumers what products contain meat, supporters said.
Opponents say the bills violate free speech rights by dictating how products can be marketed. And they argue the livestock industry is trying to block the growing popularity of their meat alternative products.
A hearing on the bill Thursday before the House Agriculture Committee came a day after a federal court largely invalidated a Kansas law, called "ag-gag," that restricted undercover investigations and footage at agricultural facilities.
"It is certainly striking that at the moment that a court is telling Kansas legislators that they cannot act to protect the livestock industry by burdening speech, that lawmakers are, again, assembling to do just that," said Alene Anello, a staff attorney at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which has sued to stop the Kansas law.
Supporters said packaging of meat alternatives confuses consumers by using meat-related terms.
"We think that beef is a great product. It will out-compete this stuff on taste, nutrition, experience, but we've got to have a level playing field," said Aaron Popelka, the Kansas Livestock Association's vice president of legal and government affairs.
Restricted terms in the bill include meat, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, jerky, steak, hamburger, burger, bacon, hot dog and wings.
Scott Weathers, a policy specialist at meat alternative advocacy group The Good Food Institute, said consumers are buying those products because they want them, not because they are confused by the labeling.
"People buy veggie burgers because they want to eat veggie burgers, not because they believe they're something else," Weathers said.
In 2018, Missouri lawmakers approved a bill that defines meat as food "derived from harvested production livestock or poultry." The state's agriculture department could refer violations to the Missouri Attorney General, who could pursue penalties of up to $1,000 or a year in jail.
A coalition that includes the American Civil Liberties Union and The Good Food Institute sued Missouri over free speech concerns. A Missouri district court judge declined to block the law and in December, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied hearing the plaintiffs' appeal.