State Legislation to Restrict Food Labeling

Lawmakers in several states are attempting to dictate food labels. These bills could mean that retailers would not be able to offer their customers plant-based meat alternatives without changing the labels in a significant manner. Some bills even require such foods label to contain the word, “imitation”.

This category represents huge growth opportunity for retailers, and we are seeing many large conventional chains make more room on the shelf for these foods, even in the meat department.

Retailers would be hurt by these bills in several ways: If they have private label products, they must change the labels, and for all products, label changes will confuse customers. Also, there may be increased liability for retailers selling products that do not conform to new labeling laws.

Currently, bills like this have been introduced in CO, IN, ND, NE, NM, OK, TN, VA & WY and more may follow.

A coalition led by the Plant Based Foods Association that includes the National Grocers Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association opposes such legislation for the following additional reasons:

• Shoppers Know What They Want: American consumers are sophisticated and increasingly aware of the health and sustainability aspects of the foods they want for their families. Requiring new, unfamiliar labels will only confuse shoppers and frustrate retailers.

• Increased Costs: Labeling changes present significant financial burdens to food manufacturers. Planning, design, and implementation of food packaging typically takes 12 – 18 months and can impose many thousands of dollars of unexpected costs which must be absorbed or passed to retailers and consumers.

• Moreover, state-specific labels may vary, imposing even more costs and requiring complex distribution systems that don’t currently exist. Manufacturers will be exposed to unintentional risk should their products end up for sale in the wrong market. States will be singled out as being hostile to a growing food market and to retail shoppers looking for these options.

• Potentially Unconstitutional: The makers of plant-based meat alternatives already follow current FDA regulations and clearly identify their products by using qualifiers such as “meatless” or “plant-based”. The First Amendment protects the free-speech rights of food manufacturers to use truthful and non-misleading labels. Already there is a lawsuit in Missouri challenging that state’s law on this issue and it’s likely that more lawsuits will be filed.

These legislative proposals are would stifle innovation and limit the ability of consumers to make informed choices. They will only create marketplace disruption at a time when consumer demand for such options is an all-time high, with sales growing at 23% a year. Shoppers shouldn’t be forced to search for products with obscure, contrived names. We should support, not hinder these innovative foods that consumers are increasingly looking for.

We urge retail associations to join us and oppose the banning of food terminology and protect consumer choice. If you have any questions about this issue, please contact either PBFA Executive Director Michele Simon (510) 465-0322 or PBFA’s consultant, Dan Colegrove (202) 329 – 6242.


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