Proposed school-lunch ban on meat substitutes stalls in Iowa House panel

By: - March 1, 2023 12:01 pm

An Iowa House panel declined to advance a bill banning meat substitutes such as insect proteins or lab-grown proteins from school lunch menus. (Photo illustration via Canva)

Members of a House subcommittee rejected a bill Wednesday that would have prohibited schools from serving meat and egg substitutes, including insect proteins and lab-grown proteins.

Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, said he proposed House File 377 after reading an article about Australian schools serving kids chips made of ground crickets, meal worms and other insects. He said he also had an unpleasant experience with a plant-based product called “Just Eggs,” which he said contained no eggs.

Shipley also introduced legislation this year to ban margarine from school lunches. That bill advanced from a subcommittee last week and was scheduled for debate Wednesday afternoon by the House Education Committee.

He said he considered the bill primarily about truth in labeling. The measure would require the Department of Education to label plant-based proteins using their primary ingredients and not describing them as eggs, meat, burgers or other term commonly applied to animal products.

Shipley objected to characterizations of insect protein as the “produce of the future,” and stated in the bill that “providing such foods as an option for children in schools is an insult to the dignity of this state’s families.”

He added that he believes a pound of beef “likely has superior nutrition than a pound of ground-up bugs or meal worms.”

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, challenged that statement. “Well, I found a study that says insects — edible insects — actually have very high (vitamin) levels and superior health benefits.”

While lawmakers and others who spoke at the subcommittee meeting said they agreed with the importance of truth in labeling, at least in principle, Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, questioned whether it was practical or appropriate to require schools to create their own labeling.

“I think what I hear you saying has some credit or some admirable qualities to it. I’m not sure it’s the right spot for it at this moment in time,” he said.

Jessica Hyland, lobbyist for the Iowa Biotechnology Association said her organization was undecided on the bill but cautioned against stifling research and innovation. She said there are Iowa companies interested in “precision fermentation,” a process for lab production of foods, which uses some of the proteins mentioned in the bill.  “It’s something that we need to look at from the perspective of feeding the world eventually,” she said.

Rep. Chat Ingels, R-Randalia, the chair of the subcommittee, said the bill may not move forward now but he wants to continue consideration of labeling issues. The decision means the bill likely will not meet this week’s legislative “funnel” deadline that requires it to pass a full committee to remain alive for further consideration this year.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine.