Senate passes ‘Fair Labels Act’ to crack down on meatless meat

DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate has voted to establish fines for food processors that sell products in Iowa with labels suggesting food made with plant or insect based protein is a meat-based product.

Senator Dawn Driscoll of Washington raises Angus cattle on her family farm near Williamsburg. “For far too long states like California have been legislating for us and today Iowa takes the stand and takes the offense for once in agriculture,” Driscoll said. That’s a reference to rules on how big the living space for pigs, chickens and baby calves must be in order for products like veal, eggs and bacon to be sold in California.

If the bill passed by the Iowa Senate becomes law, food processors could be fined as much as $10,000 for selling something labeled as meat in Iowa when it’s not.  “Lab grown products are emerging technology and the Fair Labels Act is an important first step for making sure that consumers understand the difference between lab grown or plant-based products and real beef, pork, turkey, lamb, goat and chickens raised by farmers and ranchers.”

The bill would provide some latitude to marketers, however.  “A cell-cultivated, insect or plant protein product is permitted to use an identifiable meat term such as a drumstick or sausage if the label includes…terms such as…meatless, lab grown or plant based,” Driscoll said.

The bill had included a ban on research at the state universities into the production or use of manufactured meat products, but that was removed. An addition to the bill calls for state officials to seek a waiver that would not allow food stamps or benefits for women with infants and young children to be used to buy manufactured meats.  “This is a preventative measure against an activist federal government that wants to see our children eat from a petri dish,” Driscoll said.

Senator Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines, says most Iowans can buy Beyond Meat or Impossible Burgers at the grocery store, but low income Iowans couldn’t if the bill becomes law.  “Why are we denying them a choice? But this is food — food!” Bisignano said. “It’s for people to choose and eat and it’s not our decision, because they get assistance, to tell them what to eat.”

Despite those objections to a section in the bill, Bisignano and every other senator present voted for the total package. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.