LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Food manufacturers will soon have to comply with “truth in labeling” legislation that aims to protect Arkansas’ meat and rice producers from outlets who, the bill’s sponsor says, mislead consumers into thinking their products are something they are not.
The measure signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson Monday bans companies from classifying lab-grown meat products or meat substitutes as meat, and prevents manufacturers from marketing “cauliflower rice” if the product contains no rice. Arkansas is the nation’s top rice-producing state.
“This law only affects people who want to deceive the public about how their food originated,” bill sponsor Rep. David Hillman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette . “And if you’re not trying to deceive the public, this will not affect you or any of the outlets who sell these products.”
The law, which will take effect 90 days after the 2019 session ends, levies a $1,000 fine for each violation. Revenue from the fines will be allocated to the state Agriculture Department’s Plant Board Fund.
Arkansas is the sixth state to pass such legislation, and the only one to include rice. Missouri was the first state to pass legislation regulating meat substitutes.
Critics of similar labeling laws contend they impose on First Amendment rights and violate federal labeling laws that ban mislabeling.
“It’s bad public policy,” said Jessica Almy, director of the Good Food Institute, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit in support of foods known as cell-based and plant-based meats. Almy said shoppers can discern what they’re buying at the store, otherwise they wouldn’t purchase it.
But cow milk sales in recent years have been impacted by the rise of products advertised as milk that are made from rice, nuts or soy. Meat and poultry supporters fear similar results as shoppers select from a budding list of alternatives.
John Hamilton, a White County rice farmer, compared it to how dairy farmers are competing with products marketed as milk.
“That’s not milk,” Hamilton said in his testimony to the committee. “And I don’t want to see rice get into a situation where we’re having to fight this fight for 20 years like the dairy industry has.”