As the sale of cell-cultured foods become closer to a reality, lawmakers in Missouri want to protect its livestock and poultry producers.

If you don’t know what cell-cultured foods are, another name to which I have heard them referred is laboratory-grown meat. However, the latter name is exactly what the legislators don’t want to hear or seen used in the Show Me State.

Bills in both the state’s Senate and House of Representatives have been proposed that if passed, would prohibit companies from advertising and promoting those products as meat.

Rep. Jeff Knight has proposed Missouri HB 2607, while Sen. Sandy Crawford has proposed Missouri SB 977. The bills are identical, and read as follows: “Currently, no person advertising, offering for sale, or selling a carcass shall engage in any misleading or deceptive practice including misrepresenting the cut, grade, brand or trade name, or weight or measure of any product. This act also prohibits misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.”

Reception of the bill

The bill has the full support of one industry group, the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association (MCA). During a recent hearing, MCA member Andy McCorkill testified that he favors HB 2607, according to Midwest Marketer. McCorkill said the legislation “ensures the integrity of the meat supply” in Missouri.

“Calling this product meat without knowing the inspection process, the nutrient profile of these products, food safety or anything is a disservice to farmers, ranchers and consumers. It is important these products don’t misrepresent our industry,” said McCorkill. “We care for our livestock and invest a lot of time and money in ensuring the consumer has a safe, nutritious and affordable product.”

Defining meat and harvest

Not surprisingly, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has offered a different point of view. The anti-meat organization claims that in biblical times, “meat” meant “food” and not “flesh.” It also alleged that according to Merriam-Webster, the definition of “harvest” applies exclusively to plants.

Clearly, these bills are about semantics. And if that is the best argument PETA can give, it might be disappointed. My dictionary calls harvest the process or period of gathering crops. But haven’t we all heard the term “crop” used both for seeds and for animals raised for food production?

Also, the biblical argument seems pretty weak. Saying “meat” only means “food” really does not exclude meat or poultry because there are multiple references in the Bible to which people eat meat. In fact, according to scripture, Jesus himself ate meat.

What means 'meat' to you?

What the senators and representatives should take into account is what do they consider meat, and what do their constituents consider meat. Personally, I’d be hard-pressed to call something created in a lab “meat,” even if it was created using self-replicating animal cells.

Public perception for such products may improve as they become commonplace. But for now, people are still apprehensive about them. Because of that, it makes sense to make sure the consumers, without doubt, will know what exactly they are buying.

In other words, Knight and Crawford in their bills are just asking companies that will produce cell-cultured foods to be transparent, and I can’t think of too many people who think transparency in the food industry is a bad thing.