Arizona Looks to Clarify for Consumers What Qualifies as Meat

Prices can change daily at the farm level due to seasonal price patterns and production factors.

Arizona's state lawmakers want to make sure that when a shopper asks “where’s the beef’’ that what they’re buying actually came form a steer or a cow.

Ditto on chickens.

On a 4-3 vote Thursday the House Committee on Land and Agriculture voted to make it illegal to call something “meat’’ or a “meat food product’’ if it is “not derived from harvested production livestock.’’ The same restrictions would apply to calling something chicken if it did not start as live poultry.

HB 2604, pushed by cattle rancher David Cook, R-Globe, is specifically aimed at efforts to grow actual animal protein cells in laboratories. That research is being advanced at least in part amid environmental concerns of the effects of raising cattle.

Cook said that consumers should know what they’re buying.

But he conceded there’s a financial issue here, too.

“Do you know how much money the beef industry has done advertising their product?’’ he asked colleagues. He said that a dollar-a-head assessment among ranchers has alone produced millions in marketing expenses.

“So why should these guys who are growing fake stuff be allowed to hook their wagons to what these industries and these families and these people have have spent generations investing their money and marketing their product?’’ Cook asked.

He said nothing in his legislation would bar the sale of these laboratory-grown meats.

“Just don’t call it what it’s not,’’ Cook said.

The proposal provoked some concern about the breadth of the measure.

Patrick Bray, representing the Arizona Farm and Ranch Group which lobbies on behalf of agriculture, assured lawmakers that nothing in the measure would prohibit people from marketing soy hot dogs or veggie burgers as long as they were labeled as such.

But Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, pointed out that the legislation would affect not just written statements and labels but also ban labels, displays, pictures, illustrations or samples that would be considered “untrue, misleading or deceptive.’’

That, said Weninger, raises the question of whether a package of veggie burgers can have a picture on the outside that make it look like a product that actually contains meat.

“I understand that’s not your intention,’’ he told Cook. But Weninger said he worries about how that might get interpreted.

Matt Ball representing the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes plant-based meat, dairy and eggs, urged lawmakers to hold off.

He said while there have been successes in creating laboratory-grown meats, none have gotten to the point where they would be commercially viable. And Ball said that by the time that happens the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will determine what kind of labels are necessary.

And there’s something else.

Ball said that what is currently being grown in laboratories is, in fact, meat, right down to the cellular level.

Rep. Arlando Teller, D-Chinle, had a more basic objection to the legislation.

He noted that a similar law in Missouri provoked a lawsuit by the manufacturers of meat alternatives. And Teller questioned what would be the cost to the state to defend this measure if and when it was challenged.

Cook pointed out the lawsuit in Missouri was settled out of court, though the details of how that law can be enforced are still being worked out among the lawyers for both sides.

And Rep. Cesar Chavez, D-Phoenix, said he sees no need for such a law.

“I personally believe that the consumer is smart enough to make the decision of putting whatever they want into their own body,’’ he said.

But Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, who owns a jewelry store that bears the family name, said her own experience convinces her that people need to know whether what they’re buying is authentic.

She said it is now possible to manufacture diamonds that are virtually indistinguishable from those that are mined. Osborne said that’s why artificial ones have microscopic disclosure on their edges.

The legislation now needs approval of the full House.