FILE - Soy milk Almond milk

Louisiana legislators have approved three measures that supporters say will boost Louisiana’s seafood and agriculture industries while helping consumers make informed choices, though critics say at least two are unnecessary and could expose the state to lawsuits.

House Bill 335, which requires restaurants to inform consumers when serving foreign shrimp or crawfish, reached Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk without a dissenting vote. Rep. Jerry “Truck” Gisclair, the Larose Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the vast majority of foreign seafood is not inspected for banned and potentially harmful substances, so diners have a right to know where their shrimp and crawfish came from.

“It really helps our seafood industry,” said Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma.

Both bodies also have approved Senate Bill 39 by Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, which would ban labeling soy or almond milk as “milk” and would go into effect if the federal government adopts a similar rule. The bill defines “milk” as “the lacteal secretion” of “one or more healthy cows,” though it also says “milk” could include “goat, sheep, water buffalo, camel milk, and the milk of other hooved animals.”

John Kay, Louisiana director with Americans for Prosperity, the national conservative advocacy group, mocked the apparent inconsistency on social media, saying the bill is “so ridiculous it disagrees with itself.” But supporters hope the measure benefits the state’s dairy industry.

On Monday, the House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 152, also by Thompson. It’s similar to the milk bill but applies to what he says is mislabeled food like cauliflower rice and vegetable-based burgers and would not require federal action.

Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, who carried the bill in the House, said foods like “cauliflower rice” and “craw-fish” (which does not contain actual crawfish) should not be allowed to “piggyback” on industry-funded marketing efforts to promote Louisiana agricultural products. He said he didn’t think the change would violate the U.S. Constitution’s interstate commerce clause because it only regulates labeling and does not affect what products can be offered.

Civil penalties would fall on manufacturers, not local stores. A similar measure in Missouri is being challenged in court, and Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said in a committee hearing that Louisiana’s law if enacted likely would face a lawsuit too.

Skeptical lawmakers said they didn’t think consumers are confused by such products. They said the measure could make the products harder to find in Louisiana stores, causing state residents to buy them online and bypass local stores.

Rep. Beryl Amedée, R-Monroe, half-jokingly asked if gummy bears would be next, since they're not gum and aren't made from bears.

“The libertarian groups who have opposed this are simply wrong,” countered Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe. “This bill simply requires the truth.”

Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.