A bizarre new Missouri law went into effect last month. It states that if a meat product isn’t “harvested in the traditional manner”— that is, from slaughtered animals — it can’t be labeled with the word “meat.” Since my home state raises more cows and hosts more farms than any state besides Texas, it’s no wonder that the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri’s pork producers and the Missouri Farm Bureau have backed the legislation since its inception.
But the new law isn’t going over so well. The ACLU, plant-based meat company Tofurky and The Good Food Institute, which represents companies that produce plant-based and cultured meats, recently joined forces to file a lawsuit against the state, saying the law violates the First Amendment and discriminates against out-of-state manufacturers.
They’re right to try to overturn this bogus law. It’s clearly an attempt from the meat industry to push competitors out of the marketplace. Just look at the cattlemen’s justification for censoring plant-based food manufacturers: They claim that consumers will “confuse” plant-based meat made from peas, wheat and soy with meat from farmed animals. But the term “meat” has also been used immemorially to describe the edible parts of plants, such as coconut meat. And if they come for vegan meat now, what’s next? Peanut butter? Milk of Magnesia?
Long term, this will hurt Missouri’s economy — and thus, Missourians — as plant-based innovation brings money and jobs to the state.
For example, Beyond Meat — a top plant-based meat producer whose products are now sold in more than 10,000 restaurants, hotels and universities — has a plant in Columbia, Mo., that provides 200 people with full-time jobs. And a second distribution facility will generate more than 250 new jobs this year.
Perhaps more importantly, Beyond Meat is beyond dedicated to the Show-Me State. Ethan Brown, CEO and founder of Beyond Meat, said the company first came to Missouri in 2009 to access the outstanding research being conducted at the University of Missouri. Brown expressed in July: “We have been investing in, and growing together with, Columbia, Mo., ever since. … Our expansion not only brings more jobs and opportunity to this special community but also furthers Missouri’s position as a leader in the production of plant-based meat.”
By comparison, factory farms, which have been touted as an economic development strategy for depressed rural communities, actively harm Missourians.
Missourians living near factory farms are forced to breathe dangerous gases, which could be part of the reason lower-respiratory diseases are the third-leading cause of death in Missouri. And factory farms provide little, if any, economic stimulus to the state. Most local people are unwilling to work under the dangerous and degrading conditions that exist in factory farms, where the occupational injury rate is six times higher than the average for any other industry. (Tyson Foods reportedly averages one worker limb amputation per month.)
Plus, most of the profits from factory farms go to outside corporate investors, not to local farmers or rural residents. In his paper titled “The Hidden Costs of Factory Farming,” John E. Ikerd, a professor of agriculture and economics at the University of Missouri, put it this way: “The promised employment turns out to be low-paying jobs, without benefits, that go primarily to people who move into CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) communities.”
At a time when hundreds of manufacturing workers in my economically insecure hometown of Poplar Bluff, Mo., live in constant fear of mass layoffs, why are Missouri lawmakers bullying the very companies that could help countless Missourians recover from the Great Recession?
The new law doesn’t actually help Missouri’s consumers, who are more than capable of reading labels and ingredients lists — and whose health and local economies are benefiting from plant-based meats. This law will make it more challenging for vegan-friendly companies to market and sell their products in the state, which could make it more difficult for Missourians to access healthy plant-based foods. And when you consider that most Missourians die from heart disease or cancer, two diseases often tied to high meat consumption, the new law becomes even harder to defend.
Clearly, our society — and our food system — is rapidly changing for the better. Plant-based meats reached $670 million in sales in 2018 alone, and Beyond Meat’s market research found that more than half of its consumers are actually omnivores. The Missouri Legislature can pass all the ridiculous laws it wants, but censorship alone can’t stop an idea whose time has come.
Elizabeth Enochs is a staff writer at Mercy For Animals and a Missouri-based freelance writer.