Like most consumers, I strive to purchase nutritious food for my family.
I review labels to determine which foods best support our nutritional needs, and I expect those labels to be truthful. Food labels should be clear and avoid any attempt to mislead, confuse or misrepresent what is included in any food product.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Consumers are confused by labels. Especially when it comes to ultra-processed, plant-based products labeled as meat.
In a recent survey of 1,200 Texas consumers, one in five who had purchased a plant-based product indicated they felt misled by the labels, because they thought the product contained real meat.The same survey also indicated that 71% of Texas consumers routinely examine food labels before making grocery store purchases. Additionally, 74% opposed the use of words like meat, beef, chicken and eggs, or images of livestock on packages of cell-cultured tissue and plant-based products that do not contain actual meat.
Efforts at the Texas Capitol are underway to prevent this type of consumer confusion and provide certainty for shoppers, like me, that the labels on the food we purchase are truthful. House Bill 316 and Senate Bill 1145 will require that if a package claims to contain beef, it’s beef; and if it says it’s chicken, it’s really chicken.
When product labels are misleading, it undermines consumers’ ability to make reliable decisions about their own nutritional needs.
This message was echoed by Shalene McNeill, Ph.D., nutrition scientist, registered dietician and past president of the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, during testimony before the House Committee on Public Health.“The food label is one of the most sacred promises we have to maintain consumer’s confidence about their food choices,” McNeill said. “I can’t think of a food more important than meat to label truthfully and accurately.”
This statement rings true for millions of Texas consumers who rely on food labels to make healthy decisions. What’s more, ultra-processed products claiming to be beef are not healthier. McNeill said health professionals are increasingly skeptical and concerned that ultra-processed, plant-based products labeled as meat may be detrimental to human health. Some of these products have added sodium and are higher in fat and calories than real beef, which provides 10 essential nutrients, including high-quality protein, zinc, iron and B vitamins.
Not only is there concern about the health benefits of these products, but clear, consistent labeling across federal and state jurisdictions is crucial for consumer confidence in the food system.Current USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) definitions for labeling of meat products provide standards of identity so that real beef products have recognized names, such as ground beef. But when non-meat ingredients are added, such as plant-based materials, the final product cannot be called ground beef. Rather it must be called “ground beef and isolated soy protein,” for example. This ensures that consumers know what they’re buying.
Plant-based and cell-cultured products are not required to play by these same rules.
Plant-based products fall under the jurisdiction of the US Food and Drug Administration, an agency that doesn’t have standards of identity for meat and poultry products. This regulatory glitch has allowed makers of plant-based products to game the system and market their products with misleading meat and poultry terms. For example, there are multiple products comprised of ultra-processed, plant and chemical ingredients on the market today labeled as “beef” or “beefy.”
Texas lawmakers must provide assurance to consumers that labels on the food we purchase are truthful. This is necessary to protect consumer confidence and ensure Texans know exactly what they are feeding their families. HB 316 and SB 1145 will accomplish these goals, and that’s why I support them.