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North Dakota joins the ranks of several states aiming to regulate labeling of lab grown meat substitutes.

If passed by state lawmakers, House Bill 1400, would define meat as “flesh of an animal born, nurtured and processed for the purpose of human consumption” and ban advertising lab grown meat as a meat food product.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association took a policy position against what it calls deceptive labeling at its annual meeting earlier this year.

“Cultured” meat — made from animal muscle and fat cells in a lab rather than coming from slaughtered livestock — could hit the market within the next year and the beef industry has been expressing concern over how that product is marketed to consumers.

“Today’s consumer is demanding more and more information about the food products they purchase for their families,” Independent Beef Association of North Dakota President Dwight Keller said in a statement supporting the bill. “It’s imperative for us to ensure they are informed at the point of sale about whether the meat they’re purchasing is derived from an animal in the traditional manner or whether it’s cultured in a laboratory ... This is about truth in advertising.”

A bill regulating the labeling of non-meat alternatives, which includes both plant-based meat alternatives, as well as cultured meats, was passed in Missouri last year. Similar legislation is being considered in Nebraska, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming.

The Missouri action has already spurred a lawsuit and is tied up in the courts.

The North Dakota proposal primarily sponsored by Rep. Jim Schmidt, R-Huff, sticks to cultured beef, saying it may not be packaged in the same, "or deceptively similar, packaging,” it must be labeled a “cultured food product” and may not contain the word "beef" on the label.

Schmidt said he's not opposed to those who want to produce lab grown meats.

"I'm not criticizing it. I just don't want it to be labeled something it's not," he said. "That's the bottom line."

He said he also wanted to keep the legislation simple by only tackling its impact on the beef industry to start with and by not getting into vegetable-based meat alternatives. Ultimately, it will be up to the committee to decide if it wants to add other meats, such as pork.

Julie Ellingson, NDSA's executive director, said her organization has been fighting the label battle at the federal level but taking it on at the state level could also help.

NDSA is calling for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be the regulating agency rather than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, arguing that USDA has label pre-approval approval authority before a product goes into the marketplace. While FDA often takes action after the fact.

“Instead of being reactive, we want to be proactive,” Ellingson said.

Ellingson compared this to issues the dairy industry faced with alternative milk products in years past. She said the industry issued complaints to the FDA about almond milk makers labeling its product milk.

"The longer we wait, the tougher it gets," Schmidt said. "We want to get this established before this stuff gets on the open market."

HB1400 is scheduled for a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee at 10 a.m. Jan. 24.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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