Missouri may soon become the first state in the nation to require food marketed as “meat” to be harvested from an actual animal. This seemingly obvious definition has actually become quite blurred in recent years. Innovations in food science have led to new products that imitate meat but come from either plants or lab-grown tissue.
The Missouri legislature is in the final stages of adopting a traditional definition of “meat.” The bill would require anything not harvested from an animal raised for human consumption to be clearly labeled as something other than meat. Proponents feel consumers deserve to know where their food came from, and that consumers should not be deliberately deceived by manufacturers of imitation meat products.
The background story of these products is very interesting. While food grown from beef cells in a petri dish is still a few years away from grocery stores – currently costing an eye-popping $18,000 per pound, or about $1,000 a meatball – plant-based meat imitators are already for sale across Missouri.
The best-known brand, Beyond Meat, touts its flagship product as the “Beyond Burger,” a hamburger patty look-alike that even “bleeds” when cut, courtesy of some added beet juice. Beyond Meat claims its product smells, tastes and feels like a hamburger but contains no animal products. TGI Fridays features the Beyond Burger on its menu and it is available at mainstream supermarkets like Target, Hy-Vee, Gerbes and Dierbergs.
In an ironic twist, the Beyond Burger was developed just up the road from the Missouri state capitol in Columbia. Much of the food science used by Beyond Meat is built on work the University of Missouri conducted on pea proteins. While the company’s corporate headquarters is now unsurprisingly located in Southern California, Beyond Meat’s manufacturing plant remains in Columbia.
The problem with all of this Missouri-grown food wizardry comes with its California marketing. Beyond Meat has gained its foothold in supermarkets by insisting on being displayed in the meat cooler alongside actual beef, vacuum-packed to look like real hamburgers. This big-buzz manufacturer will not agree to any other arrangement – if a retailer wants to carry Beyond Meat, it must agree to put these plant products in the meat section.
Farmers are all for innovation, and this new product certainly is a marvel of ingenuity. However, slick marketing campaigns with deceptive advertising and product placement have no place in Missouri. Consumers should have no doubt what the food they’re buying is made out of. Missouri helped create these products; now it is doing the responsible thing by taking the lead on consumer awareness and honest labeling for them.