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More States Considering Bills To Clarify Labeling For Rice Alternatives

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Cauliflower is the new kale - to be specific, cauliflower rice.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Now, I am going to be making cauliflower rice.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Cauliflower rice is a growing trend that is considered a healthy alternative.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Shredding cauliflower into tiny bits, creating a popular substitute for rice.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I pulse it until it resembles rice. See; it's fluffy. It's hot.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: You cannot tell that this is not rice.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

David Hillman says if you can't tell that it's not rice, that's a problem. He's a rice farmer in Almyra, Ark. And when he saw cauliflower rice in his grocery store a little while ago, he bought some.

DAVID HILLMAN: Actually, I liked it, you know, but it wasn't rice. It was cauliflower.

CORNISH: Hillman is also a state representative in Arkansas, which produces about half of all the rice in the U.S., more than any other state. So this fall...

HILLMAN: I said to myself - I said, well, I'm going to write a bill here in Arkansas to prohibit the mislabeling of food products.

CORNISH: That bill is now law, and Arkansas isn't alone. Louisiana is currently considering its own rice labeling bill.

GABY DEL VALLE: And then in a number of other states, there have been bills that have been introduced that would also limit whether plant-based meat could actually be called meat.

CHANG: That's Gaby Del Valle, who wrote about this for The Goods by vox.com.

DEL VALLE: So if you think of those burgers that bleed that are made of plant proteins instead of animal proteins, that's kind of what they're going after.

CHANG: She says these bills are often framed as preventing consumer confusion.

DEL VALLE: But as a consumer, I would say, you know, I understand the difference between cauliflower rice and real, actual rice or the difference between a veggie burger and a beef burger. There are flavor differences. There are texture differences. I've never been confused.

CORNISH: Another explanation for the bills - these alternatives are popular. According to the market research firm Nielsen, in 2017, sales of cauliflower products grew 71 percent in one year. And the company Beyond Meat which makes plant-based meat had a gangbusters IPO this week. Again, reporter Gaby Del Valle.

DEL VALLE: That makes me wonder, are cattle farmers, are rice growers feeling threatened by these new products and by these new industries?

CHANG: Another big food labeling issue is over milk alternatives like soy milk or oat milk or almond milk. In Arkansas, State Rep David Hillman says his bill didn't take this on but not because he was trying to protect rice milk.

HILLMAN: If it says rice milk, it's misleading.

CORNISH: He says he plans to take up the milk labeling issue in the next session. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.