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Texas ranchers support bills to restrict 'meat' to animal-only products

Posted at 9:36 PM, Jan 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-23 23:25:07-05

When does the word "meat" refer to, you know, meat?

The question would have sounded silly just a few years ago, but with the discovery and refinement of so-called "laboratory-grown" meat, a handful of state legislatures have begun to consider it.

Now, it's got cattle ranchers in Texas and across the country circling the wagons to protect their business. A business they say could disappear if lawmakers don't take action.

Nothing quite says Texas like a heard of cattle, and Craig Travers and his family have raised herds like Brangus for nearly 100 years.

Normally a man of few words, Travers has a lot say about companies that want to call their laboratory-grown products meat.

"I don't like it. It's probably gonna put us out of business," Travers said.

He says if lab-grown products gain a foothold by calling their product "meat," smaller ranchers like him may have to quit the business as demand withers for his all-natural product.

Cattle producers have begun to fight for strict labeling guidelines around the county to protect their $12.1 billion a year business.

"They are worried that consumers are going to confuse synthetic forms of meat, like meat grown in a lab or meat that comes from vegetables with meat from livestock or poultry,” said Joshua Weaver, of the Baylor University School of Law. 

Ranchers call those so-called meat-like products, not meat at all.

Missouri became the first state to reserve the use of the word meat for products that come animals. Since then, bills have gone to legislatures in Wyoming, Nebraska, Tennessee and Virginia.

Many other states have begun to watch these proposals with great interest, along with the lawsuits it triggered in Missouri over businesses' so-called free-speech rights.

Weaver says the issue hasn't made to Texas yet, but he assures us it will.

"I can tell you there are certainly people in Texas, looking at these bills and looking at their this legislation and taking it as a sign of things to come,” Weaver said.

Travers also sees it as a sign of things to come. He fears if cattle ranching takes a big enough hit, he won't get to pass the family business down to his daughters.

He says meat has only one definition.

"Ah, the real stuff, that comes out of the pasture right here. What you see, is what you get," Traver said.

He vows to keep fighting for the business that helped make Texas the great state it is today.

Weaver predicts if differing court opinions emerge over the use the term "meat", then we could see the issue decided in a United States District Court of appeals, or maybe the United States Supreme Court.

The Missouri case remains pending in court. Lawsuits haven't yet emerged in other states because the newer, stricter labeling proposals haven't yet become law.

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