Missouri has become the first state in the USA to pass legislation which defines what meat is – specifically, “derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” Those behind the law change said that it is to protect consumers so they know exactly what it is they are eating. The US Department of Agriculture is currently considering a similar law at the federal level.

Under the law, plant-based products can’t be described with terminology relating to meat without incurring penalties or even jail time. This shift follows similar legislation in countries across the world, cracking down on milk alternative labelling.

However, four companies are jointly filing a motion to sue the state, saying that the definition offered in the law is misleading and will prevent plant-based manufacturers from an even playing field. The Good Food Institute, Tofurky, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Animal Legal Defense Fund are arguing that the law will quash any competition and is unconstitutional.

“This law has nothing to do with consumer protection,” the Good Food Institute said in a statement. “No one buys Tofurky thinking they were carved from a slaughtered animal any more than people are buying almond milk thinking it was squeezed from a cow’s udder.” Under the new law, the products would have to be described as “protein textured” rather than “meaty”.

In New Zealand, restaurants such as Lord of the Fries sell alternative meats like chicken as ‘chicken’, with no clear labelling made on their menus. CEO of the Meat Industry Association Tim Ritchie said that he wasn’t aware of any activity in New Zealand in order to implement such a law, and it wouldn’t be worth the effort to try to discourage competition in that way. The MIA has worked closely with farmers and other industry bodies to find a strategy for coping with alternative proteins. As much of the market is export focussed, the New Zealand meat industry is beholden to international laws, but Ritchie said they would rather build New Zealand meat’s brand on its own strengths.

“[A law change] is something that’s been suggested in the past but in terms of practicality and legality it wouldn’t achieve anything,” he said. “There’s room for everything, and the industry needs to find a way to position itself at the top of the market. As a sector we shouldn’t try to fight it, but rather look at things differently and find a way to move forward.”