A bid to outlaw the labeling of "cauliflower rice” and other plant-based food products has cleared the Louisiana House and moved one step from the governor’s desk, over objections from vegetarian food sellers who argued it would confuse consumers.
The measure, Senate Bill 152, by state Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, is being pushed by the state’s agriculture interests. Supporters have said it will help protect Louisiana rice farmers and cattlemen. Thompson calls it the “truth in labeling” bill.
The state House debated whether consumers are really confused by products like “cauliflower rice” before voting 58-29 in favor of the legislation. Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, who handled the measure in the House, tacked on an amendment to allow “riced cauliflower” but not “cauliflower rice,” so the Senate must sign off on the change before sending it to the governor’s desk.
Similar legislation has passed in Arkansas and Missouri. A group representing plant-based food companies sued Missouri over its labeling bill, and Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain recently conceded the bill introduced by Thompson will “probably” draw a lawsuit, something a representative of veggie burger company Impossible Foods also suggested.
Impossible Foods, which sells its vegetarian “Impossible Burger” in about two dozen Louisiana restaurants including The Chimes in Baton Rouge, said the bill hurts its ability to accurately market its products. Tyler Jameson, of Impossible Foods, said the products are called “plant-based meat.”
“We do that because the product looks, tastes, cooks like meat but we are very clear it’s not from the edible flesh of a domesticated bovine or however these bills describe them,” Jameson said in a recent interview. “These bills create more confusion, not less.”
The bill sailed through the Legislature without a single “no” vote until facing some skeptical House members, who questioned whether consumers were really being duped by the products.
“I’ve never been fooled to think tofu is actually meat,” said state Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma.
“Do you realize people are using cauliflower rice to lower their carbs?” asked Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero.
Stefanski said the measure protects the agriculture industry and would get ahead of the growing trend of cell-cultured meat grown in labs. Supporters have said the plant-based food sellers are unfairly capitalizing on the good name of products like rice and beef.
"Far too long the issue has gone unchecked," Thompson said when ushering the bill through the Senate. "Broccoli is not rice. Cell cultures are not meat. And certainly tofu burgers are not meat."
The legislation gives Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, a supporter, the ability to fine food manufacturers $500 for each instance of labeling a product the same or “deceptively similar” to a list of agriculture products including rice, beef, “meat product,” sugar and others. Lawmakers also debated how the definition of deceptively similar – “misleading to a reasonable person” – would be interpreted.
Strain would also have the ability to seek “injunctive relief” to stop companies from selling products whose labels are deemed misleading.
Products that are represented as agricultural products like beef, pork, “beef product,” “pork product, rice, poultry and others would be in violation of the law.
Voting for food labels (58): Speaker Barras and Reps. Abraham, Adams, Anders, Bacala, Berthelot, Billiot, Bishop, Bouie, Bourriaque, Brass, C. Brown, T. Brown, Carpenter, Chaney, Cox, DeVillier, Dwight, Falconer, Gaines, Guinn, J. Harris, L. Harris, Hill, Hoffmann, Howard, Huval, Jackson, Jefferson, Jenkins, M. Johnson, R. Johnson, Jones, Jordan, LaCombe, Larvadain, LeBas, Leopold, Mack, Marcelle, McFarland, McMahen, Miguez, D. Miller, Moore, Jay Morris, Jim Morris, Moss, Muscarello, Pierre, Pope, Pugh, Pylant, Schexnayder, Smith, Stefanski, Turner and White.
Voting against SB152 (29): Reps. Abramson, Amedee, Carmody, S. Carter, Connick, Coussan, Crews, Davis, DuBuisson, Duplessis, Edmonds, Emerson, Foil, Garofalo, Hilferty, Horton, N. Landry, Leger, Magee, Marino, G. Miller, Pearson, Richard, Simon, Stagni, Talbot, Thomas, Wright and Zeringue.
Not Voting (18): Reps Armes, Bagley, Bagneris, G. Carter, R. Carter, Franklin, Gisclair, Glover, Henry, Hodges, Hollis, Ivey, James, T. Landry, Lyons, Norton, Seabaugh and Stokes.