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Arizona Republican lawmaker asks what is 'meat'?

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- A House Republican is questioning the legality of a measure advanced this past week by his colleagues to decide what is "meat'' -- and, more to the point, who can legally use that word.
Rep. Alexander Kolodin of Scottsdale said the effort that some lawmakers are pushing to provide what they say is more information to shoppers is vague and overly broad. In fact, he told them that the measure, as worded, HB 2244 could make it illegal for someone to suggest that even something clearly labeled a veggie burger is "meaty.''
But Kolodin turned out to be the lone Republican who shares that view: Every other House member of the GOP, along with a handful of Democrats, voted this past week to approve the restriction.
That now sends the measure to the Senate. And assuming the proposal by Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, clears that chamber, it will be up to Gov. Katie Hobbs to decide whether the state should be in the business of defining what is "meat.''
For some time, part of the focus was on the labeling of veggie burgers and similar products. But that has been replaced by a new fear: lab-grown meats.
Part of what is complicating the issue is that, from a biological perspective, what is grown in a laboratory from animals cells is essentially the same, at a cellular level, as something that came off of a living animal.
Foes have raised issues about the hormones and chemicals used to keep the cells reproducing. And while the Food and Drug Administration has approved some types of lab-grown chicken, others say long-term studies are needed to determine if there are health effects.
Rep. David Marshall, R-Snowflake, actually has a proposal to outlaw the sale of any cell-cultured animal produce for human or animal consumption. His HB 2121 even would allow the state Department of Agriculture to levy $25,000 fines and allowed anyone whose business is "adversely affected'' -- think cattle ranchers -- to seek damages of up to $100,000.
That measure is set for a hearing this week.
Nguyen's bill is far narrower.
It permits the sale of lab-grown meat. In fact, he said he said what people want to eat is up to them.
The key, said Nguyen, is consumer disclosure.
HB 2244 would make it illegal to represent a product as meat or poultry if it is a "cell-cultured food product'' or "a synthetic product derived from a plant, insect or other source.''
Nguyen said the measure is legal.
"This bill is very clear and assures that in Arizona, when you go to the grocery store, you can actually see what you're buying,'' he said. "So if it's traditional slaughter meat or poultry, it will list that.''
And anything else, said Nguyen, would have to be labeled as such.
Kolodin, however, said what's in the measure is not that simple.
The issue, he told colleagues, goes not to the merits of plant-based and lab-grown meat, but whether the legislation tortures the language.
For example, HB 2244 would make it illegal to use a term that is the same or "deceptively similar'' to one that has been used or historically defined to refer to what comes from what had been a living animal.
"What the heck does that mean?'' he asked.
So during a discussion on the measure he asked Rep. Selina Bliss, R-Prescott, for example, what would happen if he used the term "meaty veggie burgers.''
Bliss acknowledged there is no simple answer.
"Now I think we're crossing into somewhat of a judgmental opinion,'' she responded. "I would probably have to ask someone how that would play out in a court of law.''
That, Kolodin told colleagues, was not an acceptable option.
"It has never been my experience that the courts have been any great respecters of the Constitution of this country,'' he said. "That responsibility falls more and more appropriately on the Legislature.''
Kolodin said he probably would be OK with something that requires that items be labeled in a way to ensure the "reasonable consumer'' knows that what is being sold originally came from a lab.
"But that is not what this does,'' he said.
"It's unconstitutionally vague and overbroad,'' Kolodin said, making it unconstitutional.
Most Democrats voted against the measure.
"The FDA already regulates this,'' said Rep. Mariana Sandoval of Goodyear. "So in my opinion there's no need for this.''
This isn't the first effort by lawmakers, often at the behest of ranchers and farmers, to deal with what has been increasing competition from manufacturers of other products. It actually started years ago over the question of whether something that comes from soy or almonds could be labeled "milk.''
Legislation crafted in 2019 sought to require that such products be labeled as "fake milk'' or "alternative milk.'' And that proposal even included a provision that there would have had to be a "prominent statement'' on the package that the product is made from plants, grown in a laboratory or other similar disclosure.
"I believe that words matter,'' said Rep. David Cook, R-Globe.
"All I'm saying is when you walk up and use simple words like 'milk,' we should know what that's from,'' he explained. "Almonds do not lactate.''
That drew a decidedly skeptical response from then-Rep. Kristen Engel.
"Have you ever heard of coconut milk?'' she said. And she wondered out loud exactly how far down the linguistic rabbit hole this was going to go.
Consider, Engel said "peanut butter.''
"Butter comes from cows, but this is peanuts,'' she said, arguing that the legislation would seem to create a violation of the law.
The measure eventually failed.
Bob Christie contributed to this report.

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