A state lawmaker wants to make sure meat products produced from a cultured cell can't be labeled the same as steaks, burger and other items that come from livestock and poultry.
Several national companies are producing lab-grown meat, which is made from the cultured stem cells of animals. Industry backers, including meat giants such as Tyson and Cargill as well as Bill Gates and Richard Branson, say the process is an ethical way to produce meat that also has fewer environmental effects than traditional meat production.
Rep. Alan Redfield, a Republican from Livingston, said he wants to make sure Montana consumers know what they're buying and where it came from. His Real Meat Act doesn't ban the sale of cell-cultured products, but does require that anything labeled "meat" must be "derived from the edible flesh of livestock or a livestock product."
"Picture this: cows grazing on a mountain meadow," Redfield said. " ... Or picture this burger or whatever you may call it coming from a warehouse full of petri dishes."
The bill does not focus on vegetarian meat alternatives, things like Gardenburger veggie burgers or Beyond Meat plant-based meat substitutes, Redfield said.
Several other states, including Wyoming, Missouri, Indiana, Nebraska, Virginia and Tennessee, have or are trying to pass bills similar to Redfield's. Missouri was first to do, and is now facing a lawsuit claiming its law is unconstitutional because it violates First Amendment rights to free speech.
Several people spoke in support of Redfield's bill, including people from the farming and ranching community.
Cindy Palmer, with the Montana Farmers Union, said the argument comes down to "basic honesty for the consumer."
"They can call it healthy protein, they can call it lots of glamour things. They just can't call it meat," Palmer said.
Makenna Sellers, with the Northern Plains Resource Council, said lawmakers should question why major meat-packing companies are supporting the research and development of cell-cultured products. The council is also supporting a bill from Republican Sen. Al Olszewski, of Kalispell, that would require country-of-origin labeling for pork and beef sold at retail stores.
The only opponent to the bill was Zuri Moreno, with the ACLU of Montana. Moreno said commercial speech is protected by the First Amendment and called the bill an "unconstitutional solution in search of a problem."
Near the end of last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration said they would share oversight of the cell-cultured meat products, with the USDA taking the lead on labeling, though it's unclear what would be required.