- The Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) has published a set of voluntary labeling standards for plant-based meat substitutes with the aim of promoting consistency across the category.
- The trade group clarified that manufacturers can describe meat substitutes using terms that refer to the conventional meat they intend to imitate as well as the shape or form they take as a hamburger or nugget, but products must include a prominent reference to a qualifier that describes the product, such as plant-based or vegetarian.
- The voluntary standards were released in part in an attempt to resolve recent political battles over the labeling of plant-based meats, such as the Real MEAT Act, which was proposed in October.
By publishing its voluntary standards, the PBFA seeks to fend off traditional meat companies that have recently attempted to defend their market share by attempting to legally claim terms often associated with animal products like “hamburger” and “meat”.
The intermediate approach, which Mississippi adopted a version of in November after a legal battle, allows manufacturers to continue to label their products with familiar terminology that consumers will recognize, but also to qualify those labels with herbal terms. to avoid potential confusion. In the Mississippi case, the state initially proposed rules to block the use of meat terms for plant-based products, but the PBFA and Upton’s Naturals sued. Both groups dropped their federal lawsuit against the Mississippi on Nov. 7, the same day the state’s revised labeling regulations came into effect.
The legislative struggle in Mississippi is just one of many that cross most states. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 45 different meat labeling bills were proposed in 26 states in August. Of these bills, 17 were enacted in 14 states.
The issue gained national attention in late October with the introduction of the Real MEAT Act requiring that all products made to simulate beef but not entirely from a cow to be labeled “imitation” was proposed in the House of Representatives. the United States. Since November 14, this bill has sat on the livestock and foreign agriculture subcommittee pending a new decision.
The voluntary standards published by PBFA are a compromise that many manufacturers of plant-based foods are likely to support. Many products already take this approach. Beyond Burger prominently prints “plant-based patties” on the front of its packaging, and Upton’s Naturals uses qualifiers such as “vegan” on its jerky packaging.
Voluntary standards are not always successful, but they can point to a trend that is already emerging. Last year, the PBFA proposed voluntary labeling of plant-based milks in an attempt to create standardization in the industry. Although these standards called for a change in labeling, many large plant-based milks have already adhered to these standards by using terms like plant-based or by placing the nut in front of the word “milk” to form a word. compound.
Settling this debate will require the FDA to formally determine the standards of identity for meat of plant origin. However, it could be risky in the long run. The FDA is currently working to remove some standards of identity that have been in place since the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act was passed in 1938. While the law initially was a boon to manufacturers, companies now say archaic restrictions are stifling innovation.