Forced Labeling Guidelines for Clean Meat Violates the First Amendment

By: Sam Taddeo

In the March 1932 issue of the magazine Popular Mechanics, a well-known quote by Winston Churchill reads: “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”[1] The idea was far-fetched at the time, and even now, seventy plus years hence, supermarket coolers have yet to see the appearance of such meat. However, while it hasn’t made it to market yet, laboratories across the country have begun creating this futuristic food that goes by a variety of names: cultured meat, clean meat, synthetic meat, in vitro meat, etc., and with its arrival has also arrived a new dispute in law. On Tuesday August 28, the general assembly of the state of Missouri passed Senate Bill Nos. 627 and 925, the first pieces of state legislation to regulate the labeling of the term “meat” on food labels.[2]
Supporters of the law, which includes groups such as the Missouri Cattlemens Association, argue that equivalent labeling will lead to consumer confusion and be detrimental to the interests of ranchers who take the care and time to raise livestock for consumption.[3] Supporters also point to the definitions of meat in state statutes, such as Missouri’s, which would lead to inconsistencies if alternative meat producers are allowed to engage in equivalent labeling.[4]
The opposition to the law, which includes clean meat supporters such as the Good Foods Institute, argue that it violates the 1st Amendment and is discriminatory against out-of state companies that compete with those that are in-state.[5] A main contention among alternative meat producers is that they should be free to label their products as they wish so long as their packaging clearly lists the ingredients for consumers to see.[6] Regulating the labeling of clean mean products carries the risk of inflicting negative impressions with consumers. Words that have been proposed to be a component of the labels, such as “biotech,” carry negative connotations with many, if not most, consumers, and could negatively impact the companies’ bottom line.[7]
In today’s world of ever complicating technology, consumers are often left none the wiser when confronted with an increasingly diverse and sophisticated array of choices. Statutes like the one passed in Missouri add a new layer of confusion. Although produced in an alternative manner, lab-grown meat shares the same basis as its conventional counterpart, being produced from animal cells.[8] Producers of clean meat should be allowed to exercise their commercial speech as they see fit. To not have the freedom to do so could subject them to injury to their brand and reputation. Clean meat is our future and deserves the full support of our lawmaking bodies.
  1. Winston Churchill, Fifty Years Hence, Popular Mechanics, Mar. 1932, at 390.
  2. S. B. 627 & 925, 99th Gen. Assembl., Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2018).
  3. Press Release, Missouri Cattleman’s Assoc., Missouri Cattlemen’s Fake Meat Bill Passes, (May 17, 2018) (on file with author).
  4. Id. (“The current definition of meat in Missouri Statutes is:  ‘any edible portion of livestock or poultry carcass or part thereof.’”).
  5. Matt Ball, GFI Goes to Court for First Amendment, The Good Foods Inst.: Blog (Sept. 7, 2018, 10:00AM), https://www.gfi.org/gfi-goes-to-court-for-first-amendment.
  6. Tofurky Sues to Stop Missouri law over meat terminology, Ap news (Sept. 7, 2018), https://apnews.com/80be8d989eb04d909dbdf073036f6dbb.
  7. Zachary Schneider, Comment, In Vitro Meat: Space Travel, Cannibalism, and Federal Regulation, 50 Hous. L. Rev. 991, 1021 (2013) (proposing the adoption of the adjective “biotech” as part of a federal regulation scheme for labeling clean meat).
  8. Complaint at 3, Turtle Island Foods et al. v. Richardson et al., No. 18-CV-4173 (W.D. Mo. Aug. 27, 2018).

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