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Arizona lawmaker wants truth in labeling meat products

Arizona state Rep. Quang Nguyen
Capitol Media Services 2023 file photo by Howard Fischer
Arizona state Rep. Quang Nguyen

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- An Arizona lawmaker wants to be sure that the next time you buy something called "meat'' it actually came from from something that had at least two legs, if not more.
And another one wants to keep any that didn't come from a live animal off the shelves of Arizona grocers.
HB 2244, crafted by Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, would make it illegal to intentionally misrepresent a product that is not derived from livestock or poultry as actually being meat. The language specifically says that term can't be used if what is being offered actually was produced in a laboratory from cells cultured in a laboratory from an animal.
And to go a step farther, Nguyen said the same prohibition would apply if it was a "synthetic product derived from a plant, insect or other source.''
Nguyen told Capitol Media Services he doesn't intend to block grocers from offering -- and customers from purchasing -- such products. Instead, he said, it's a matter of transparency and disclosure.
Rep. David Marshall, however, wants to go a step farther and keep what he considers these faux meats out of Arizona. HB 2121 crafted by the Snowflake Republican would prohibit the sale or production of any "cell-cultured animal product for human or animal consumption.''
Marshall's legislation says it is "a matter of statewide concern necessary to protect public health.''
But the verbiage also suggests another motive: protection of the state's cattle ranchers. In fact, his legislation would allow anyone whose business is "adversely affected'' by the sale of lab-grown meats to sue to stop the practice and be able to collect damages of up to $100,000.
Marshall declined to discuss his measure, saying he wants to speak to those in the food industry before proceeding.
At least one element of the industry, however, already is weighing in.
"This legislation poses a threat to the free market and individual liberty by eliminating an entire field of scientific research and a vital sector of the economy,'' said Curt Chaffin. He is the director of policy at the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that says it is focused "on making plant-based and cultivated meat delicious affordable and accessible.''
What makes the issue pressing is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year approved the sale of "cultivated'' meat.
For the moment, the cost of producing the cell-based proteins have kept it from showing up in grocery stores.
But Upside Foods said it is working with "chef and restaurant partners'' to make the products available. And GOOD Meat said it is working with chef Jose Andres at his China Chilcano restaurant in Washington, D.C. to offer lab-grown chicken.
Nguyen said he has no problem with Arizonans having an alternative -- as long as they know what they are buying.
"The bill doesn't ban lab meat,'' he said.
"But if it's lab meat, it needs to be labeled that,'' Nguyen continued. "If you don't want to buy lab meat, then don't buy it. That's all.''
In fact, he said he sort of likes the idea of the alternative.
"There are a lot of poor people out there that actually could use lab meat,'' Nguyen said. And the Prescott Valley lawmaker, a refugee from Vietnam, said he knows that people eat what they can.
"Where I came from, I ate dirt,'' he said.
"So that's how poor I was as an individual growing up,'' Nguyen continued. "If you wanted to throw lab meat up on my table when I was a little kid growing up in the war, I'd be chewing on that.''
Marshall, with his proposed ban, is coming at it from a different perspective.
His measure seeks a declaration from the Legislature that the state's cattle ranching industry "is integral to this state's history, culture, values and economy,'' saying it goes back to territorial days.
But it also said there are financial harms that could befall the state if consumers here move from beef to cultured cells.
That goes to the fact that ranchers lease more than 8.3 million acres of state trust land. More to the point, the proceeds of those leases are earmarked for the beneficiaries of the trust, including public education.
Marshall's legislation declares that the production of lab-grown animal products threatens to harm those beneficiaries.
The amount of money involved, though, is not huge.
According to the most recent report by the State Land Department, leases of state lands brought in $51.1 million in 2023. But most of that was in land leased for commercial purposes, with grazing leases generating less than $3 million.
GFI's Chaffin said outlawing the sale of lab-grown meat in Arizona is bad public policy.
"In a time when American farmers and food producers are facing stiff competition around the globe, politicians should not be policing what's made and sold in Arizona,'' he said in a prepared statement. "Consumer demand and science-based food safety requirements should determine what's sold in our supermarkets, not arbitrary government regulation.''
GFI also is opposed to Nguyen's proposal,.
"By censoring what companies can label their products, states like Arizona stifle the free market and their state's economy,'' Chaffin said.
No date has been set to hear either measure.
On X and Threads: @azcapmedia