Using Sledgehammers on Analogue Flies

June 23, 2021

Why laws censoring alt-proteins are a bad idea.

The lower house of the Wisconsin legislature recently passed, by unanimous voice vote, measures to keep plant-based analogue products from referencing milk or meat.

There were three separate bills, one banning the use of the word milk for beverages that don’t come from “hooved mammals,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal. (I love that phrase, which makes me think of Leviticus.) Another would forbid products from calling themselves cream, cheese or yogurt if they have no dairy, and a third would outlaw terms like meat or bacon in products that contain no animal flesh.

It’s nice to know that Wisconsin is upholding its long, proud legislative tradition of advocating idiotic laws in misguided efforts to help its dairy farmers. America’s Dairyland for years sent senators and representatives to Congress whose biggest priority, apparently, was combating the evils of margarine. They fought to uphold laws that, for a long time, forbade even using yellow coloring for the stuff. (Manufacturers would include it in packets for consumers to mix in.)

Laws “protecting” the meat and dairy industries from the scourge of analogue products are of dubious constitutionality, as a federal judge ruled in rejecting an Arkansas measure in 2019 on First Amendment grounds. They assume that consumers are idiots. And they’re using a sledgehammer to swat a fly: The market for analogue products, while growing fast, still remains tiny compared with the overall market for “real” products.

It should be noted that the odds are long for the Wisconsin measures to actually become law, even though they passed by unanimous voice vote with no one speaking on the Assembly floor in opposition. The state Senate has to act next, and last year, when the Assembly passed a similar measure, the Senate declined to take it up.

More to the point, the Wisconsin measures were “chained” legislation: They will only go into effect if nine more states, out of a group of 15, pass similar laws. Only Maryland and North Carolina have done so, and those laws haven’t gone into effect because they are similarly “chained.”

This calls to mind the mother’s maxim: “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” In this case the reply would be: “Yes, if I’d chained myself to them by the ankles first.”

A bad idea is a bad idea, no matter how many others you can get to go along.

If politicians in Wisconsin or anywhere else are concerned with the fate of farmers, there are more effective things they could do than coming down on analogue products. A good start would be breaking the stranglehold of large processors on the meat and milk markets, which is often used to beat down farm prices.

But that might entail offending some large, deep-pocketed potential campaign contributors. Analogue proteins may be growing, but the sector is still small enough for politicians to pick on comfortably.

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