Label law aims to tell plant-based burger eaters what’s in the buns

    Lawmakers want to require companies to prominently label alternative meat products to avoid consumer confusion. Photo from Impossible Foods

    Updated at 4 p.m. Thursday 

    Georgia lawmakers want to require meat alternatives that can often pass as the animal product they are trying to mimic to clearly convey to consumers that they aren’t actually the real thing.

    These companies say that’s not a problem, so long as they can also still simultaneously hawk their wares as meaty goods.

    For example, that means Impossible Foods – which is now found in Whoppers at Burger King and on a breakfast sandwich at Starbucks – can still market its popular plant-based product as “burger” under the proposal as long as the package also clearly labeled as plant-based.

    An earlier version of the legislation would have essentially barred plant-based and lab-grown alternatives from being marketed as meat at all. Both chambers backed the compromise Thursday, sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

    The Georgia Cattlemen’s Association and other agricultural groups pushed lawmakers to intervene, arguing the packaging was sometimes misleading to consumers and that the word “meat” should be reserved for slaughtered animal products. It’s reminiscent of the debate over whether almond milk should be called “milk.”

    “If you look at what has happened to the dairy industry as alternative products have come on the scene, we have had a significant drop in the amount of dairies that are still operating and still producing,” Dale Sandlin with the cattlemen’s association told lawmakers recently. “And so we don’t want to see the same type thing happen to the cattle industry.”

    Rep. Tom McCall, an Elberton Republican who is a farmer, said he just wants consumers to know what they are buying. McCall, who did not seek reelection this year, is the outgoing chair of the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.

    “I’m not pitting one against the other because whatever you put in your mouth comes off a farm,” McCall said. “Whether it is a plant-based hamburger or a cow-based hamburger, it all comes off of a farm. And we pretty much grow them all in Georgia. We grow everything from apple to zucchini in this state.”

    Michele Simon, executive director of the national Plant Based Foods Association, said this week that Georgia is moving in the right direction with the current version of Senate Bill 211 and that all they want is a level playing field for their industry.

    “The amended legislation would allow plant-based food companies to continue the use of descriptive terms such as ‘meat’ and ‘burger’ associated with plant-based foods when those foods are also labeled as ‘plant-based’ or ‘vegetarian’ or with a similar qualifier,” Simon said.

    Georgia Recorder Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report. 

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.