Monday, July 29, 2019

Food Fight

Yesterday's New York Times contained an article on the legal battles surrounding the labeling of plant-based food products. As meatless patties like the Impossible™ Burger and Beyond Burger™ continue their gains in popularity, lobbying groups for the beef industry have ramped up efforts to block the use of certain words in the products' labeling through legislation. A number of states already have passed laws that regulate whether vegan, vegetarian, or lab-grown meat products can use terms like "meat," "burger," or "sausage." An NPR story rounds up the existing state laws. One proposed bill, still pending in the Washington state legislature, would make the production and sale of lab-grown meat a misdemeanor if enacted.

Why the concern? Lawmakers cite the potential for consumer confusion, which food labeling laws are designed to prevent. Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations contains hundreds of definitions of various food products, specifying their contents and labeling requirements. But as noted in the Times article, the beef industry also fears the potential market share gains by alternative burgers that have been enjoyed by alternative milk products, such as soy milk and almond milk. Once retail stores began placing alternative milks near dairy products, their sales skyrocketed; non-dairy milks now comprise 13% of the milk market share. Plant-based "meat" is currently 1% of the meat market share, but that number would likely similarly rise.

Plant-based food producers are fighting back against the labeling restrictions. Last week, the makers of Tofurky and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Arkansas. Turtle Island Foods v. Soman challenges Arkansas's law as violating First Amendment protections on commercial speech. (The full text of the complaint is available on the ACLU website.)

To learn more about this fascinating area of law, try a subject search of the Duke Libraries Catalog for "Food law and legislation – United States." You’ll find titles like Food Regulation: Law, Science, Policy, and Practice (KF3875 .F67 2017 & online) and the treatise Food and Drug Administration, 4th ed. (KF3871 .O733 & online in Westlaw). For help with locating these or other food law resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.