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Skeptic questions lack of testimony for plant-based food bill in Minnesota Legislature

A House bill would provide $2 million for the development of the plant-based food and protein industry in Minnesota.

A package of Just Egg, a plant-based food made in Appleton, Minnesota.
Just Egg is a plant-based food made in Appleton, Minnesota.
Eat Just Inc.
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ST. PAUL — A Minnesota House of Representatives committee is considering the vegetarian option.

A bill to provide $2 million for the development of plant-based food and protein options for consumers drew some skeptical comments from some Minnesota legislators during a hearing on Monday, Feb. 7, while others described the proposal as forward-thinking.

House Bill 2583, sponsored by Rep. Dan Wolgamott, a Democrat from St. Cloud, is intended to stimulate developing crop varieties, plant protein processing innovations and food product manufacturing.

He said Minnesota should be at the forefront of a growing industry and not lose market opportunities to other states or nations.

Lauren Stone of the Good Food Institute, who was the lone testifier on behalf of the bill, noted that there are processing facilities targeting the growing market for plant-based alternatives in Dawson, Plymouth and Appleton, Minnesota.The Appleton facility is a producer of a plant-based egg substitute.

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The Just Egg facility at Appleton, Minnesota.
A 30,000-square-foot facility at Appleton, Minnesota, makes Just Egg, a plant-based food.
Eat Just Inc.

"We want people to keep eating the meat they love and have more options," Stone said.

Rep. Dale Lueck, a Republican from Aitkin, questioned why Stone was alone in testifying for the bill and wondered why crop groups weren't represented. He also asked if there weren't already competitive grants available through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for the plant-based industry.

Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen said they would be eligible for value-added and crop research grants.

"The bill would enhance those grants and be more specific," Petersen said.

Other questions from the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee included concerns about healthiness of processed plant-based food and competition with traditional livestock and the crops grown to feed farm animals.

Lueck said the bill would benefit "a very specific area that would certainly be direct competition for some of the same people in (Wolgamott's) own district that make a living right now in the poultry industry.”

Wolgamott said he has heard concerns about such competition but said, "we want to go with consumer demand."

Ginny Klevorn, a Democrat from Plymouth, said the discussion should not be about whether meat or a plant-based protein is better. "It's not an either or," she said. "There is space for both."

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Rep. Rick Hansen of South St. Paul called the bill "forward-looking."

The bill would require matching dollars from outside groups for the state's $2 million investment. Stone said there were would be not shortage of sources for the matching money.

The committe will give the bill more consideration.

"I'm still looking for those people producing the raw materials for this stuff," Lueck said.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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