The next generation of meatless burgers could be made from such alternatives as crickets, hemp or mung beans as companies look to boost the protein content of their fare.

At the same time, the biggest beef lobbying group is backing legislation that would stop plant-based meat-alternative companies from using the word “meat” to describe their products to keep consumers from being confused about the content.

The U.S. alternative meat industry grew 11% between 2018 and 2019 to $4.5 billion, and the battleground has moved from the frozen food aisle in grocery stores to the restaurant industry.

Liz Specht, director of science and technology at the Good Food Institute, which supports plant-based and cultivated alternatives to conventional meat products, said the sector is growing because the products appeal to “flexitarians,” consumers who don’t reject meat altogether but want to reduce their consumption.

Consumers are increasingly aware of all of the negative impacts of conventional meat production, and younger generations of consumers are especially motivated to decrease their environmental footprint and to have concern for animals,” she said.

Beyond Meat Inc. made its name on pea protein, but experts say the legume isn’t as nutritionally satisfying as proponents suggest.

“Pea protein does have one weakness and that is that it’s not actually nutritionally equivalent to the protein that’s in dairy -- it’s not even equivalent to the protein that’s in soy,” Johann Tergesen, chief executive officer of Burcon NutraScience of Winnipeg, Manitoba, told Bloomberg.

Burcon produces canola meal, which generally is used in animal feed but could be marketed for human consumption. Canola meal is high in the amino acids methionine and cysteine, which could be blended with pea protein to produce a substance that would have a protein content comparable to milk.

Another Winnipeg company, Manitoba Harvest, processes hemp seeds – marijuana’s cousin -- which have all 10 essential amino acids plus omega 3 and 6. The company already offers an array of products made from hemp, including nutrition bars, smoothie mixes and milk products.

Fava beans are higher in protein than peas and can be processed the same way while mung beans currently are showing up as alternative egg products and its flour can be used in pastas and other foods. Other alternatives include lentils and the pulp from coffee cherries, which usually gets dumped into landfills.

Crickets long have been used in traditional Asian diets. Powdered insects have more protein than flour. Canada’s largest grocer, Loblaw Cos., already adds cricket powder to its President’s Choice products.

The meat-labeling legislation was introduced in the House Monday at the behest of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which claims consumers are being misled.

“Consumers need to be protected from deceptive marketing practices, and cattle producers need to be able to compete on a fair, level playing field,” Jennifer Houston, the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in a statement.

It’s the same argument the dairy industry applied in its effort to get the producers of almond, soy and other milk alternatives to take “milk” out of their names.

“This bill is about safety and transparency, and will make sure that meat-lovers and vegans alike have the transparency and honest labels that can allow customers to make their own decisions,” said Rep. Roger, R-Kan., who introduced the measure.

The beef industry is pulling out the stops, taking out ads that slam Beyond Meat and Impossible’s burgers as “mystery meat” – a pejorative well-known to anyone who has eaten in a school cafeteria.