The Regulation of Commercial Speech: Can Alternative Meat Companies Have Their Beef and Speak It Too?
Would you eat a hamburger that was made in a petri dish? Consumers may have this option soon as laboratory-grown meat begins to hit supermarket shelves. Laboratory-grown meat is made from animal stem cells that eventually transform into primitive fibers and tissue within the confines of a petri dish. Although a lot remains unknown about laboratory-grown meat, consumers can think of it as meat production without the farm. How might consumers react to meat labels indicating that their products were made in a petri dish? Laboratory-grown meat companies have yet to find out, as some states have passed laws that ban the use of the term “meat” to describe their products. Ironically, some of these statutes have also sought to prevent vegetarian meat companies from advertising with the term “meat,” even though their products have been on the market for decades.
This Note argues that state statutes restricting use of the term “meat” violate the First Amendment. While the government has a legitimate interest in promoting consumer protection and market transparency, these statutes are more extensive than necessary to achieve the government’s goal. The US federal government should enact legislation that balances consumer protection and the commercial speech of alternative meat producers. Due to its extensive history of regulating food labels and advertisements, the federal government is best positioned to enact a homogeneous regulatory system for alternative meat. Additionally, federal legislation, as opposed to varied state statutes, would make it easier for food companies to comply with one set of standards while distributing across state lines.
As the market for food alternatives diversifies, a regulatory system that protects consumers and upholds core First Amendment values becomes increasingly vital.