With new agricultural technologies developing, House Bill 311 was posted for passage Monday morning in the Kentucky House of Representatives which would require the proper labeling of cell-cultured meat products that are produced in a lab.
Cell-cultured meat, otherwise known as lab-grown meat, takes cells from live animals that are then grown in petri dishes in laboratories to a finished product that companies claim will be similar to the taste and appearance of regular meat products.
With the passage of HB311, cell-cultured meat products will receive a label differentiating from that of regularly processed meats from livestock grown by farmers.
Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles said that consumer transparency is the major factor behind the bill and its importance.
"This bill is about transparency," said the AG commissioner. "New technology will allow meat to be grown in labs, instead of in farms and this will give consumers the ability to differentiate meat grown in labs as opposed to meat grown on a farm as the technology matures."
While the cell-cultured meats are not expected to enter the market commercially for another two or three years, many big named food companies are investing heavily into the lab grown meat process and Quarles says that the government needs to be proactive with the issue.
"Government is reacting to products, and they need to be proactive for this issue, it's not going away, and that we know is coming," Quarles said. "We want to be proactive, and don't want to delay on this issue."
According to Quarles, a previous example of the consumer confusion caused by labels occurred with dairy farmers dealing with almonds being classified as a milk product, and consumers may be mislead about what the term "dairy" actually means.
"This is a proactive response that is consumer friendly that clearly differentiates between what comes from an animal and what comes from a lab," he said.
With Kentucky being the biggest beef and cattle producer to the east of the Mississippi River, with Madison County at the spearhead, Quarles says that HB311 helps stand up for the state's 38,000 livestock producers.
"Again, we don't oppose the technology, we just ask that it is transparent to the consumer," he said. "This subject reflects a growing concern of technology being infused in agriculture, and Kentucky has a long reputation of being an innovator in technology but we pride ourselves in our livestock."
Commissioner Quarles has worked on this legislation since June 2018 to understand the bill and come up with a way that is specific to the Commonwealth. He testified last Wednesday in support of the bill so that family farmed meats will not be marketed the same as that of lab grown meat.
Quarles hopes to tackle this process quickly and that the legislature can come up with a process that has the same rigor for lab-run meat as they do for traditional meat processors including meat inspection, labeling requirements, FDA exhaustive studies and potential health reactions to this product.
He states that the cell-cultured meats will be popular amongst a subset of buyers with specific dietary preferences such as veganism, vegetarianism or other non-meat eating activists.
"I am a supporter of a free market and people have the right to buy what they want, but here in Kentucky I want to stand up for our farmers," he said. "People have the right to know whether what they are buying was grown on farm or not."
"I personally prefer a steak that comes from a cow instead of lab," Quarles laughed.
The agriculture commissioner says that he was confident that Kentucky legislature will support the local agriculture industry and pass HB311 onto the Senate Agriculture Committee and thinks that Kentucky will be one of nearly ten states that are considering this bill.
As of 4:45 p.m. Monday afternoon, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed HB311 with a vote of 93-1.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.