It may soon be illegal to call cauliflower rice — which isn’t rice at all, obviously — “rice” in Louisiana. A bill that would prohibit companies from putting a “rice” label on products that aren’t made of, well, rice is quickly moving through the state legislature, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Traditional agriculture groups say calling grated cauliflower “rice” confuses consumers, the Journal reports. A similar bill passed in Arkansas, which produces more rice than any other state, last month. But is there anybody out there who bought a bag of cauliflower rice (which many grocery stores keep in the vegetable aisle) thinking it was the real deal? And wouldn’t calling it “grated cauliflower bits” or some other name be more confusing than just “cauliflower rice?”
The rice industry isn’t the first to try and limit what its competitors — which often tout themselves as healthier or more environmentally friendly alternatives to more mainstream foods — can call their products.
In February, the New York Times reported that beef and farming industry groups were lobbying to make it illegal to call lab-grown or plant-based meat-alternative products, like the Impossible Burger, “meat.”
“The word meat, to me, should mean a product from a live animal,” Jim Dinklage, a rancher and the president of the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, told the Times. More than a dozen states have introduced laws limiting what can be referred to as “meat” at the urging of lobbyists like Dinklage. In 2018, Missouri passed a law prohibiting companies from “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” Legislators in at least six other states have introduced opposing bills, Reuters reported in March.
Meat producers told the Times they don’t want to end up like the dairy industry, which attempted — and failed — to stop plant-based milk alternatives made from almonds, oats, and soy from using the word “milk” on their packaging. “Almonds don’t produce milk,” Bill Pigott, a Republican state representative from Mississippi, told the Times, adding he’s not just concerned about fake milk. “The fake, lab-produced meat is a little bit more of a science-fiction type deal that concerns me more.” (Lab-grown meat isn’t available to consumers yet, which suggests the beef lobby is trying to get ahead of the issue.)
Notably, the fight against alternative meat, milk, and rice is being framed as a consumer protection issue. Francis Thompson, the chair of the Louisiana state Senate’s agriculture committee, told the Journal he decided to pursue bills regarding rice, dairy, and meat labeling after meeting farmer groups, adding that his main concern was ensuring that consumers weren’t confused about what they were buying.
Nebraska’s meat-labeling bill was similarly introduced by a vegan Democratic state senator who told the Times she had the idea for the bill after hearing two women at a local supermarket discuss whether Beyond Meat burgers, which are vegan but “bleed” like real burgers, contained real meat.
The companies that make these products contend that consumers know what they’re buying, and that many are intentionally seeking out healthier alternatives to things like white rice and hamburger meat. According to a Nielsen report from 2018, consumers are increasingly turning to healthy food alternatives, like using stevia in place of sugar. Additionally, “superfoods are increasingly touted and called out on product packaging …. because consumers are looking for them.”
As Rachel Sugar previously wrote for The Goods, cauliflower in particular is having a moment, thanks to the “demonization of white bread and our collective move towards complex carbohydrates” and the rise of low-carb and no-carb diets. Jordan Greenberg, who was then an executive at the canned and frozen vegetable company Green Giant, told Sugar that cauliflower production is on the rise. “When we first introduced [riced vegetables], in Q4 of 2016, we were harvesting five acres of cauliflower a week,” Greenberg said. “Now, we’re up to harvesting over 35 acres of cauliflower a week.” That’s more than 100,000 heads of cauliflower a day.
Looked at this way, the anti-cauliflower rice bill may be a reaction to the growing popularity of the cruciferous vegetable, coupled with a desire to save an industry in decline — and not necessarily a way of helping customers avoid bringing home a bag of “rice” only to realize it’s a vegetable.
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