Ranchers, meat industry turn to government over meatless imitators

It’s a tale as old as time. Someone creates a new product originally meant for a certain demographic but ends up attracting others. The new item causes qualms within the current establishment who fear the loss of market share and future profits.

The establishment is left in a quandary. They can either spend money to improve their product or create a new ad campaign raising more awareness about the benefits of the current service. Far too often, however, the establishment turns towards their pals in government for protection. The taxi industry’s failed attempt to smash Uber and Lyft via local and state regulation is one of the more recent examples. They were able to force ride-sharing companies out of various cities by pushing through regulations on background checks, licenses, and insurance requirements. The effort saw mixed results with plenty of states agreeing to some base form of regulatory authority.

It’s now the meat industry’s turn to hit up the government for help against meatless burgers. Meat sales are down, according to Nielsen, however, plant-based patties are still just around 1% of the total industry. The Wall Street Journal reported this week on its efforts to get some sort of regulatory distinction between the two products.

Over the past two years, the beef industry has pushed legislation that restricts terms like “beef” and “meat” to the kind raised on the hoof, not products derived from plants or future ones developed using animal cells in labs. Various labeling laws are now are on the books in 12 states and were considered this year in 15 others, with a federal bill introduced in October.

This is ridiculous. Plant-based burger companies are quite open and honest about the fact they’re not meat. It’s part of their marketing and appeal to certain consumers. The notion people would get confused and believe an item labeled “Plant-based Burger” somehow means it actually came from a cow is farcical. It didn’t stop Mississippi from briefly passing a law this year on the issue but an Institute for Justice lawsuit eventually forced the state to change its mind about the stupidity. Other suits are happening in Missouri and Arkansas, although I’m not sure if the Institute for Justice is involved.

The unfortunate part of the meat lobby’s attempt to make things harder for plant-based alternatives is it’s lining the pockets of not only politicians but also lobbyists. Via WSJ:

In Washington, meat-alternative makers made early inroads in lobbying and advocacy. In 2016, startup Hampton Creek, now known as Just Inc., spent $110,000 to hire lobbyist Heather Podesta and her shop to make introductions to Washington officials as it was seeking to expand, according to the company and a disclosure form. Elizabeth Kucinich, the former policy director at the Center for Food Safety (and wife of former Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich), was retained that year to represent the newly formed Plant Based Foods Association. And a lobbyist that group hired to focus on state fights has represented food and restaurant companies in Washington for years.

The cattlemen initially targeted state legislatures, joining with agriculture-friendly lawmakers and combining efforts to write laws to restrict how plant-based products use terminology like “meat,” “beef” and “sausage.”

It’s an understandable response to the meat industry’s efforts, although it shouldn’t come to this. The best solution is to just let consumers decide which product they prefer to put in their bodies. The government needn’t be involved and the politicians who decided to pass these labeling laws should be held accountable, especially if they profess a love for smaller, weaker government.

I write all this as a fan of meat products, for the record. The plant-based ones are a nice change of pace but tend to be too salty. Kudos to those who enjoy it, though. Just keep the government out.