Adaptation happens. In our food system, though, it can come with a heaping side of controversy, and even lawsuits. The latest debate: can minced cauliflower be called rice?
Two recent examples of industries battling over labels include eggs and dairy. The former put Hampton Creek’s eggless Just Mayo at the center of several battles including a lawsuit filed by competitor Unilever, parent company to Hellmann’s (the lawsuit was later dropped), and warning letters sent by the FDA pointing to a decades-old legal definition of mayonnaise as including eggs that technically disqualified Hampton Creek from calling its product mayonnaise, since it uses pea protein in place of eggs. While all that’s quieted down a bit, the dairy industry has launched a similar attack against nondairy milk producers that have been steadily taking market share away from cow milk products.
Now, the rice lobby is taking issue with cauliflower “rice” – the popular low-carb and grain-free alternative to traditional rice gaining popularity among certain diets like paleo and Whole30. While it’s easy to make this at home with a head of cauliflower, stores including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have begun selling the shredded cauliflower using the word “rice” on the packaging.
“Only rice is rice, and calling ‘riced vegetables’ ‘rice,’ is misleading and confusing to consumers,” Betsy Ward, president of industry lobby USA Rice, said in a recent statement. “We may be asking the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies to look at this.”
But, according to Quartz, the cauliflower industry isn’t losing any sleep over the threats.
“Using the FDA to combat merchandising efforts? That’s a story they’re telling their retail partners,” Gina Nucci of, Mann Packing, which sells cauliflower products, told Quartz. “Every section of the grocery store is fighting for the same food dollar. Same share of stomach. Consumers are smart. I don’t think anyone is going to mistake regular rice for a riced cauliflower product, frozen or fresh.”
Because the distinction is clear on the store shelf that cauliflower rice is not the same as grain rice, the rice industry may relax its complaints as products like rice milk, ice cream, and yogurt are battling for their right to use those words long attached to traditional dairy products.
“[G]reater enforcement of the FDA’s standards of identity would likely give those rice products companies trouble,” notes Quartz.
“This is what’s so frustrating about this issue,” Joanna Grossman, a lobbyist for the Good Food Institute, told Quartz. “Everybody wants to pick and choose what should come under greater enforcement and, in my mind, there’s a broader problem. So many of these definitions haven’t caught up with the times. We’re operating in a sphere where some of these definitions are really strange and obscure.”
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