Nothing says ‘New Orleans cuisine’ quite like a warm, heaping bowl of red beans and rice. The dish has been a staple at Louisiana restaurants and homes for generations. As such, asking any self-respecting Louisianan to eliminate it from his or her diet would border on sacrilege.

However, this quintessential Southern comfort food is also chock-full of those twin enemies of trim waistlines everywhere: calories and carbohydrates. This has prompted those watching their weight to seek healthier ways to prepare the dish. Fortunately, there’s an alternative to grain rice that contains a fraction of the calories and carbohydrates. It’s called ‘riced cauliflower,’ or ‘cauliflower rice,’ and the flavor and versatility of this nutrient-rich fare puts it on par with its grain-based cousin.

Ready-made cauliflower rice from companies like Bird’s Eye, Green Giant and Fullgreen Inc. now garnishes the shelves of grocery stores across the country. Some lawmakers, however, claim that Louisiana shoppers will not be able to tell that foods labeled ‘cauliflower rice’ don’t contain grain rice. To protect them from such “misleading and false” advertising, they’ve introduced a bill that would outlaw labeling cauliflower rice as such. This legislation is not only bad, big-government policy, it’s an insult to the intelligence of Louisiana residents.

Louisiana lawmakers justify the bill by insisting that labeling food ‘rice’ when it does not contain grain rice is “misrepresenting” the product. This is, at best, a stretch. Though the Oxford English Dictionary defines rice as a grain, it also recognizes the term as a verb in which one “forces [food] through a sieve or ricer.” This process forms rice-sized bits of whatever is inserted into such a device. It doesn’t take a Harvard education to figure out that cauliflower rice is simply the product you get from ricing a head of cauliflower.

In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that cauliflower rice labels confuse consumers. The internet is brimming with photos and recipes that contain cauliflower rice, meaning consumers are bound to have come across the term. Meanwhile, ricers have been on the market for decades. And if a customer does happen to be confused, a simple glance at the federally mandated ingredients list on the label will tell them all they need to know about what a given product contains.

The lack of reasoning or evidence behind claims of dishonest labeling suggests that this law is motivated not by a desire to protect consumers, but by industry groups lobbying to protect their bottom lines. Indeed, the grain rice industry sees the increasing popularity of this healthier alternative as a threat. Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, even admits that he was inspired to sponsor the bill after meeting not with confused shoppers, as one would expect if consumer interests were at stake, but with farm lobbyists.

The Louisiana bill is just the latest in a string of laws and lawsuits that some businesses are pushing to punish other businesses for their success. Sadly, the consequences of this industry feud may ultimately harm consumers, who could see increased prices and fewer options on store shelves.

Ironically, the rice industry has also found itself on the receiving end of another protectionist ploy. A second bill pending in the Louisiana House seeks to prohibit producers of plant-based milks from labeling their products as ‘milk.’ Yet rice milk does not come from cows or other hoofed mammals, meaning the bill would bar producers of rice milk from using the term ‘milk’ on their labels. In other words, if Louisiana adopts stricter milk-labeling regulations, members of the very group lobbying for stricter rice-labeling regulations will suffer.

No one considers the label ‘peanut butter’ misleading, even though the product is not made with dairy-based butter. Similarly, there is no reason to believe that shoppers are confused by the term ‘cauliflower rice.’ Calling products labeled as such dishonest is disingenuous.

These bills are simply wrongheaded solutions in search of nonexistent problems. Louisiana lawmakers should know better than to expect their constituencies to fall for this blatant government cronyism.

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