New plant-based lobbying groups bear watching

Vicky Boyd
Vicky Boyd,

On its surface, the announcement that a new group has formed to lobby on behalf of plant-based consumers and business may seem innocuous enough. After all, rice is a plant that enjoys popularity not only for its worldwide dietary contributions but also for its positive environmental footprint here in the United States.

But read further, and the goals of the California Plant Based Alliance become apparent. Just look at the group’s tagline: “safeguarding the plant-based industries’ equal opportunity to succeed.”

The formation of the alliance, which claims to be the first state group of its type in the nation, follows on the heels of the federal lobbying group, the Plant Based Food Association, formed in 2016.

The alliance’s press release goes on to say it will battle meat and dairy special interests that want the name “milk” removed from dairy alternatives like those made from almonds and oats.

Underlying the dairy industry’s fight is the Food and Drug Administration’s standard of identity for milk, which defines it as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”

The rice industry is embroiled in its own battle over mislabeling. In this case, the gripe is against vegetable-based products made from the likes of cauliflower or chick peas marketed as “rice.”

USA Rice continues to advocate in front of the FDA that the rice industry needs a nationwide standard of identity to avoid confusing or misleading consumers.

Not waiting for federal action, Arkansas passed state legislation in 2019 defining a number of agricultural products, such as beef, pork, poultry and dairy. Also included was rice, which the law defined as “the whole, broken, or ground kernels or by-products obtained from the species Oryza Sativa L. or Oryza glaverrima, or wild rice, which is obtained from one of the four species of grasses from the genus Zizania or Proteresia.”

Unfortunately, several groups subsequently challenged the law in court, saying it impinges upon free speech and is designed to protect Arkansas’ agriculture from an “imaginary crisis.”

How these new groups’ activities and lobbying affect the rice industry’s quest for truthful product labeling remain to be seen, but they definitely bear watching.

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