Governor Laura Kelly has signed into law a meat labeling bill pushed by the beef industry to protect consumers who may be confused by plant-based alternatives.
Kelly approved SB 261 on Thursday after the bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate. The signing of the bill comes as Kelly prepares to proclaim May as Beef Month.
“I encourage all citizens to support our state’s largest agricultural industry sector and join in a celebration to promote and celebrate beef in Kansas,” Kelly said in the proclamation, which is expected to be officially signed. next week at a ranch in the Manhattan area.
Kansas beef cattle contribute $12.9 billion annually to the state’s economy, including $1.7 billion in international exports.
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Vegetarian, vegan and meatless among vegetable labels
Beginning July 1, producers of plant-based meats must include a disclaimer on their labels that is in a “prominent and visible font size, close” to traditional meat terms.
Disclaimers can include vegetarian, vegan, and meatless, among other words and phrases. Without these disclaimers, the food would be considered mislabeled.
“It’s a sad day that we have to have labeling on what our products are, that they’re not being fair to consumers,” Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, said in caucus ahead of the vote. “And one day, I hope it will go far enough to say there is no almond milk, no soy milk.”
Restaurant menus do not have to meet the same requirements.
“Our primary consideration is that consumer at the grocery store,” Rep. Joe Newland, R-Neodesha, told the Capital-Journal.
“We want to make sure that when they bring it home, they know exactly what they’re getting,” said Rep. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra.
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The Kansas Livestock Association led the tagging effort
The Kansas Livestock Association led the legislative effort, which was supported by other farm groups.
Cattle producers say they are not trying to contain their competitors.
“We think if you have a product and you can sell it, go for it,” livestock association lobbyist Aaron Popelka previously testified. “Let’s enter the market and face the competition.”
But alternative meat competitors, including Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, have what Popelka considers “misleading” product labels that “try to sell it to the detriment and confusion of consumers.”
The debate pitted the influential farm lobby against the state chamber of commerce.
Kansas Chamber argued against labeling bill
Kansas House lobbyist Eric Stafford suggested the government’s job shouldn’t be to protect consumers from products, said labels aren’t misleading and some food makers in the state would be burdened by regulations.
Fake meat proponents had a beef with the bill, saying it slaughters the First Amendment.
The Plant Based Foods Association warned that the legislation could burden the state with costly litigation alleging constitutional violation of free speech. Similar efforts in other states have had mixed results in court, which Kansas lawmakers took into account when crafting the bill.