Kansas Livestock Association advocates for alternative meat labeling requirements

New legislation could change meatless product label requirements. (File photo by Jessica Robbins | Collegian Media Group)

In an effort to increase consumer awareness, a bill in the Kansas State house proposes a requirement that meatless alternatives be more transparent in their labels.

Aaron Popelka, Kansas Livestock Association vice president of Legal & Government Affairs, said many of these products have deceptive labels and could create confusion among consumers.

“As beef producers, for us to get a label on our product, we have to go to U.S. Department of Agriculture and ask their permission before we can put a label on stuff, based on how the regulation works with the USDA and the Meat Inspection Act,” Popelka said. “But these products that are plant-based don’t have that same regulatory regime and are, in fact, going out there and making claims that are confusing consumers.”

Popelka said some meatless alternatives use meat terms to describe their product, even if they are completely plant-based. The KLA wants these plant-based products to have stricter labeling policies.

“What we wanted to do with [House Bill 2437] is to just require these fake meat companies, if they are selling fake meat and using a meat term like beef or pork or burger or steak, that they have to put a disclaimer that it is meatless or meat free or does not contain meat before or after that meat term so consumers know exactly what they’re buying,” Popelka said.

Popelka mentioned another concern: The possibility of consumers mistaking plant-based products to be products that contain real meat and having a bad experience with them.

“If folks are buying this thinking it might be beef and they have a bad experience, it could reflect poorly on our product, ” Popelka said. “Our interest is to ensure that when consumers show up to the grocery store, they know what they’re buying.”

Aside from these concerns, Popelka said he still believes the meat industry will remain popular with consumers.

“In the end, we would say we think beef and other proteins like pork are a superior product,” Popelka said. “And given in a level playing field, we think consumers will buy our product, but they have to be able to tell.”

Meanwhile, a research project involving the effects of plant-based products on the economy led by Glynn Tonsor, professor of agricultural economics, is currently underway.

“I am in the middle of an active project supported by the Beef Board looking at various economic aspects of plant-based, alternative proteins becoming available,” Tonsor said. “That project is scheduled for conclusion in July 2020 when findings will be publicly available.”