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The Labeling Debate

Plant-based meat proponents are not feeling the meat case labeling love.

In Oklahoma, a judge declined to revoke a rule stating plant-based meat products must display a plant-based claim that is the same size as the brand name.

His reasoning: Hastey shoppers could be misled by a label with traditional meat terminology. And confused consumers are not good for commerce.

The Oklahoma case revolves around Upton’s Naturals, a plant-based food company. They argue, with the help of the Plant Based Food Association, that the rules are overly burdensome when they vary state-to-state and violate First Amendment rights.

Yet, the judge’s decision is evidence-backed.

Some context: The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association led a study that found that 55% of shoppers thought ‘plant-based’ products could still contain meat or animal byproducts. In one example, images of cows and verbiage such as ‘beef’ and ‘even meatier’ caused 59% of respondents to think Beyond Meat products contained animal protein.

Here we go again: The meat industry is getting a taste of what the dairy world has been battling for years.

In 2018, the National Milk Producers Federation pleaded for the FDA to strip non-dairy products of using terms such as milk, yogurt, and cheese.

Their take: Plant-based alternatives ‘are nutritionally inferior to such reference standardized dairy foods.’

But 13,000 publicly filed comments later, and the FDA still hasn’t budged. ‘Milk’ still graces the cartons of its almond, oat, and soy stepsiblings.

Worth noting: Plant-based foods are booming. 11.4% annual growth led to 2019 sales topping $5 billion across all the categories. Milk alternatives saw $2 billion and meat sat at $939 million.

Wrapping it up: Final rulings in the meat labeling cases are far from over. And the FDA continues to drag its feet on a dairy labeling decision. With a precedent yet to be set, animal groups and their plant-based foes will continue to fight this out in courtrooms.