My home state is famous for many things. St. Louis is credited as the birthplace of toasted ravioli, Missouri’s Ozark region inspired a Netflix series, and the beloved Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) was born and raised in the Show-Me State.
But one thing Missouri is not well-known for is embracing the future — even when doing so could make life healthier, safer and more prosperous for Missourians.
For example, in 2017 the Missouri Senate voted down legislation that would have banned discrimination against LGBTQ folks in employment, housing and public accommodations. The passage of Senate bill 43 — which makes it more difficult for employees to prove their protected class, like race or gender — even prompted the NAACP to issue its first-ever statewide travel advisory. And earlier this month, former Missouri governor Eric Greitens signed an anti-vegan bill prohibiting vegan startups and vegetarian-friendly companies from using the terms “beef” and “meat” on any of their plant-based products sold in the state.
Missouri statute 265.494 now states that if a product isn’t “harvested in the traditional manner” — that is, from slaughtered animals — it can’t be labeled with the word “meat.” The term “meat” long has been used to describe the edible parts of plants, such as coconut meat. Even so, Missouri’s pork producers, the Missouri Farm Bureau, and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association have backed the legislation since its inception, citing concern that consumers will “confuse” plant-based meat with meat from farmed animals.
But here’s the rub: People buy plant-based meat because they don’t want to eat animals, not because they’re confused. This law doesn’t actually help consumers, who are more than capable of reading labels and ingredients lists. To the contrary, it will make it more challenging for vegan-friendly companies to market and sell their products in the state, which could make it more difficult for Missourians to access healthy plant-based foods.
When you consider that most Missourians die from heart disease or cancer — two diseases often tied to high meat consumption — the new legislation becomes even harder to defend. Why would Missouri lawmakers attempt to block the progress of plant-based meats when easy access to these products could improve the health of countless Missourians?
Long- term, this will hurt Missouri’s economy, as the plant-based food sector is growing faster than the traditional one. According to a 2013 USDA report, consumption of cow’s milk in the U.S. fell a whopping 40 percent from 1970, while U.S. sales of dairy-free milk alternatives soared by 30 percent between 2011 and 2013. And a recent Nielsen study revealed that the plant-based foods market had hit $3.1 billion in yearly sales. Plant-based innovation also brings money and jobs to Missouri.
For example, Beyond Meat — a top plant-based meat producer whose products are now sold in more than 10,000 restaurants, hotels and universities — has an office in Columbia, providing 200 people with full-time jobs. The new distribution facility will generate more than 250 new jobs in 2018.
Soon, Missouri’s meat lobby will have much bigger problems. Although not yet commercially available, “clean meat” (meat grown from animal cells, rather than live animals) is already being made. In time, consumers will be able to enjoy everything from cheeseburgers to barbecue ribs to sirloin steaks without having to confine or kill cows, pigs and other farmed animals.
Clearly, our society — and our food system — is changing for the better. The Missouri legislature can pass all the ridiculous laws it wants, but you can’t stop an idea whose time has come.
Elizabeth Enochs is a Long Beach-based writer born and raised in Missouri who graduated from Southeast Missouri State University. She currently works for Mercy for Animals, a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles.