LINCOLN–A bill that would ban advertising of plant-based, insect-based or lab-based food as “meat” was discussed by the Agriculture Committee in a two-hour long hearing Feb. 19 that included a disagreement between two senators.
LB 594, presented by committee member Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, had its origins in LB 14, which was presented by Blood earlier this session and withdrawn last month. The new bill would act as an amendment to the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
“There are now additional consumers that will be protected and the additional organizations that are now going to be put on notice that they need to be cautious when it comes to being courteously deceitful or untruthful when they decide to package, advertise and represent their products,” Blood said.
The bill would define meat by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards. People would be allowed to appeal to the Attorney General’s office any product advertised as meat that they find deceptive. Appeals would be filed with the Attorney General’s Office.
Blood, a vegetarian, said she became aware of the issue when she saw two women in the supermarket arguing whether or not what they were buying was actually meat. She said elderly people or busy parents might not be able to fully understand what they’re buying.
“We aren’t going to be the meat police, but we certainly are going to be able to pass this bill to allow consumers to take control when they feel they’re being deceived, and that’s a good thing,” Blood said.
Blood also said she had threats of litigation from the Good Foods Institute, which came to speak against the bill. She spoke against the organization, saying the bill only acts as an amendment.
“I think it’s interesting that instead of saying, ‘Hey, let’s come to the table and find a resolution,’ all they’ve managed to do so far is to threaten us,” Blood said.
Testifiers lined up on both sides of the proposal.
Proponents included Donna Bolz of Nebraska Women Involved in Farm Economics, Mike Drinnin of Nebraska Cattlemen, Jim Dinklage of Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, John Hansen of Nebraska Farmers Union, cattleman Mike Briggs and Russell Westerhold, a lobbyist for Nebraska Poultry Industries.
Many of the proponents said the bill would help the meat industries in Nebraska.
“We believe that in the interest of both consumers and livestock producers, we need to have clear and reasonable definitions as to what it is that consumers are buying so they can make an informed decision at the point of purchase,” Hansen said.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha asked several of the testifiers what actually would qualify as “meat,” as the line is blurred with wild game, including rabbit or wild turkey.
However, Sen. Mike Moser of Columbus disagreed with Chambers’ questions, calling them irrelevant, and apologized to Hansen on the committee’s behalf.
“It seems like we’re kind of debating the merits of the bill rather than getting input from people who came to testify, and I think we’d be better served with our time and their time if we would accept their testimony and then we’ll have a chance to debate this among ourselves,” Moser said. “And rather than torture them, we’ll torture each other, as we do.”
Chambers and Moser went back and forth in a short argument that resulted in chairman Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings banging his gavel to continue the hearing.
“I’ve been here 44 years. I know more about the legislative procedure than you do,” Chambers said. “And you can say whatever you want, but you were insulting in what you said.”
After the quarrel, opponents Dan Colegrove of the Plant-Based Foods Association and Kent Rogert, lobbyist for Impossible Foods, spoke to the committee.
Impossible Foods is a company that produces plant-based foods including its signature Impossible Burger, sold by restaurants in Lincoln and Omaha. Rogert brought up words like “popcorn shrimp” and “Rocky Mountain oysters” to prove that foods don’t always have literal meanings.
“It’s a First Amendment issue,” he said. “We don’t believe the government should probably be telling a company what they can say or not say in describing a product, as long as it’s clear and not deceptive.”
Rogert also called the bill a “slippery slope” and said that it could cause more regulation for an already heavily regulated industry.
Meghan Stoppel of the Attorney General’s Office spoke from a neutral position, providing context for the bill and the office’s role if it were to pass.
Blood said the bill would not only help consumers but ag producers as well.
“[The meat industry] gives billions of dollars to our economy every year,” Blood said. “And in this small-population state, we would be screwed without that industry.”
But this bill won’t hinder companies like Impossible Foods, Blood said, as it will only even the playing field for all parties.
“They are welcome to compete, they are welcome to disrupt the market,” she said. “But if they’re going to do it, they need to be truthful about it.”