State lawmakers voted Wednesday to prohibit the sale of “almond milk” in Arizona for the simple reason that almonds don’t lactate.
Consumers could still buy that product. But under the terms of HB 2604 it would have to be labeled as “fake milk” or “alternative milk.” And there would have to be a “prominent statement” on the package that the product is made from plants, grown in a laboratory or other similar disclosure.
The legislation also imposes a similar restriction on the word “meat,” saying that word could be used only if what is in the package came from what had once been a living, breathing animal.
But Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, insisted it would not stop people from selling “veggie burgers,” as that would be clear to any buyer that what is and is not in them. Instead, he said it is aimed at efforts to create animal cells in a laboratory that, once they prove commercially viable, could be marketed to consumers.
Cook, who is a rancher, made no secret of his desire to protect his industry against those who would seek to replace something from a steer with something from a test tube. He said ranchers have done a great job of promoting beef as what’s for dinner.
“I believe these people want to tie themselves to our products that have been rigorously tested through the Food and Drug Administration and say that they’re safe and something that they’re not,” he told colleagues. He called HB 2604, mirrored after what has been enacted in some other states, a preemptive strike ahead of these products winding up on store shelves or refrigerator cases.
But he said the bottom line for both the meat and dairy sections of the legislation is simple.
“I believe that words matter,” Cook said.
“All I’m saying is when you walk up and use simple words like ‘milk,’ we should know what that’s from,” he explained. “Almonds do not lactate.”
Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, suggested that Cook was being too literal.
“Have you ever heard of coconut milk?” she asked.
“It could be coconut beverage,” he responded.
Engle wondered out loud exactly how far down the linguistic rabbit hole this was going to go. Consider peanut butter.
“Is that a misleading label?” she asked.
“Butter comes from cows, but this is peanuts?” Engel continued. “That would seem to violate this law.”
But her concerns went deeper, questioning how far a state can go in telling businesses what they can and cannot say on labels.
Cook was undeterred, saying that Arizona has a legitimate governmental interest in ensuring that its residents know what they are buying.
“It’s about consumer safety and knowing what you are consuming and your children are consuming, your grandparents are consuming,” he said.
The measure, which gained preliminary approval, still needs a roll-call vote before going to the Senate.