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lab-grown meat Thinkstock/AlexRaths

Fake meat: Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery

When we order a side of bacon, we expect to get cured meat from the sides and belly of a pig, having distinct strips of fat and typically served in thin slices.

Kleenex, Band-Aids, Scotch Tape, Super Glue. No, I’m not making out my next Walmart shopping list, even though I’m pretty sure we could use a restock at my house of all these items. No, this list of common household goods across America have one thing in common: They are trademarked products that society has collectively determined that the brand name is what the generic product is now called.

Aspirin, Cellophane, Kerosene, Thermos and Zipper are just a handful more examples of trademark genericization. I bet you can think of a few more to add to the list.

I started mulling over these brand names after seeing that Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is being sued by Upton’s Naturals and the Plant Based Foods Association because of a new state law that went into effect last week. The company claims the law violates its First Amendment rights.

According to the new state regulations, food made from plants or insects cannot be labelled as meat or “a meat food product.” The law also bans food using animal tissue created from laboratory cultures from being labeled meat. At least 12 other states have passed similar legislation.

So, is “genercide” now occurring to meat products? Well technically no. Foods do not qualify for trademarks as they cannot distinguish goods from another company’s goods. However, if a company creates a special food item, they can apply to trademark that specific brand name for the food. For example, hamburger is a generic word for the product, but “BIG MAC” is a registered trademark of McDonald’s because it represents a “unique food item.”

While these new plant-based and cell-cultured products are no doubt unique, it seems misleading these companies would want to use terms like “burger” or “meat” in their branding. It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I don’t think it is the plant-based group’s intention to give excessive praise to the meat industry. However, one would have to say their incessant need to use the terms burger, meat, bacon, nugget, etc., is furthering their own interests.

Generally, genericization happens when that product is the first or best version of that category. The chicken nugget was created in the 1950s. We’ve had the hamburger since 1885 or 1900 depending on which of three inventors you believe. Bacon dates back to 1500 B.C. While there may have been different recipes, spices, shapes and sizes of these meat products over the years, they promised to be what they were first called.

As Dan Kovich, director of Science and Technology for the National Pork Producers Council, points out the veggie burger has been around for a while. What is new though is the expanding range of products that are created to look, taste and smell like the meat products they are imitating.

“Plant-based alternative protein products cannot be called pork, and cultured products cannot be called pork without qualification making it clear how they were made,” Kovich says. “Consumers can choose pork sausage or bacon for breakfast, or they can choose a ‘cell-cultured’ pork food product.”

When we ask for a Kleenex, our intention is to get an absorbent disposable paper tissue. When we need a Band-Aid, we assume we are getting an adhesive bandage with a gauze pad in the center, used to cover minor wounds. When we order a side of bacon, we expect to get cured meat from the sides and belly of a pig, having distinct strips of fat and typically served in thin slices.

Why would we expect anything different?

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