Texas, the top cattle producer in the nation, might seem an unlikely backdrop for confusion over the meaning of words such as "meat" or "beef."
But that isn't stopping an effort in the state Legislature to officially define them — by codifying "meat," for instance, as derived solely from carcasses of cows, chickens or other livestock, with no "lab-grown, cell cultured, insect or plant-based food products" included.
The definitions, contained in a proposed law called the Texas Meat and Imitation Food Act, are needed to prevent makers of meat alternatives, such as plant-based burger patties, from duping consumers regarding the contents of their products, said agriculture groups backing the plan.
"For me it is all about truth in advertising — being truthful to your consumer," said Missy Bonds, a third-generation Texas rancher and a board member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
"We are not opposed to new development and new products," Bonds said. But "they are trying to connect our product to their product, and we want to dissociate our product from their product."
The proposed remedy in the legislation that was introduced in the Texas House is being criticized as censorship by advocates for alternatives to conventionally produced protein.
Similar laws have been introduced in other states, with mixed success, and a number that have won approval are subject to ongoing litigation based on the contention that they violate the constitutional right to free speech.
"Label censorship laws are condescending to consumers and unconstitutional," said Scott Weathers, senior policy specialist at the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes plant-based alternatives to animal protein, as well as development of meat produced in laboratories from cultivated animal cells.
Weathers said the use of the word "meat" and related terms on the labels of such products are appropriate because they describe functionality and intended use. They aren't meant to trick anyone, he said.
"We think it's unfortunate that some of our elected officials are spending their time on the imaginary crisis of people confusing hamburgers for veggie burgers," Weathers said.
Sechler writes for the Austin American-Statesman.