Agriculture interests in Louisiana are pushing to ban food sellers from “mislabeling” products like “cauliflower rice” and vegetarian “meat” products, arguing they hurt domestic rice and cattle producers in part by misrepresenting their products.

State Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, on Tuesday won approval from the Senate Agriculture Committee he chairs for a measure that targets products like cauliflower rice and meat substitutes.

The bill, 152, was backed by Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain as well as representatives from the rice and cattle industries. It still requires approval from the full Senate before moving to the House. A similar bill was recently passed in Arkansas.

The legislation is one of two measures Thompson is pushing this session that target plant-based meat and dairy alternatives. Thompson’s Senate Bill 39 aims to ban companies from calling their products almond milk or coconut milk in an effort to protect the state’s dairy industry. That bill would not make any changes unless the federal government acted first.

“SB152 is a solution in search of a problem,” the Plant Based Foods Association, a trade group, wrote in a letter to Thompson this week.

Michele Simon, executive director of the group, said the organization is opposed to both of Thompson’s bills but said the one targeting milk would have no practical impact.

Companies that sell meat alternatives currently already identify their products as vegetarian or “meatless,” the group said, adding the bill raises First Amendment issues and would be unlikely to pass a court challenge.

“Consumers are not confused, they know exactly what they are buying and are choosing plant-based alternatives for a variety of reasons: health, environmental concerns, ethical reasons and taste.”

Thompson said he doesn’t want to stop companies selling meat and dairy alternatives, but he wants to make sure they don’t “infringe” on dairy, rice and other industries here. He said to make sure the dairy industry prospers, “you’ve got to make sure everybody drinks milk,” and the same with the rice industry.

“I don't think anybody would be for mislabeling a product, regardless of how good it is,” Thompson said. “They tell me that almond milk is delicious. I'm not trying to infringe on them but they can't infringe on milk from a cow."

Thompson’s bill targeting almond and coconut milk would have to go through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee before moving to the full Senate.

Scott Franklin, a Richland Parish rice farmer representing the trade group USA Rice, said a “generation of people” think rice is not healthy because of advertisements from companies selling rice alternatives.

Members of the agriculture committee passed the bill unanimously.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.