Federal lawsuit filed challenging Mississippi’s meat alternative labeling

Updated: Jul. 2, 2019 at 7:56 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - There’s a legal fight brewing over what meat substitute products should be called. The state of Mississippi is being sued in federal court.

Labels use terms like “bacon”, “burgers” or “chorizo," but they often also show that it’s 100% vegan. Makers of plant-based foods claim they will no longer be allowed to use terms like “meatless meatballs” or “veggie burger."

“People understand that foods labeled as meatless do not contain meat," said Institute for Justice Managing Attorney Justin Pearson. "Customers seek out these foods specifically because they are vegan. However, for sellers of vegan foods it is extremely helpful to explain to customers the characteristics of the foods using meat product terms.”

Mississippi’s new law, that took effect Monday, seeks to crack down on the way those products are labeled. But this federal lawsuit argues that’s a violation of the first amendment rights for companies like Upton’s Foods.

“Our packaging is very proudly labeled as vegan and fully compliant with all the FDA regulations," added Upton’s Naturals founder Dan Stackmann. "We see this law in Mississippi as a protectionist move by the meat industry to stifle competition and we feel that that is unfair.”

“That’s hogwash," said Mississippi Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Andy Gipson. "What prompted this movement is that consumers of Mississippi have been crying out confused about what’s on the shelf. Is this meat or is this not meat?”

Here’s the thing, Mississippi hasn’t actually finalized any regulations connected to the new law. The proposed regulations were filed with the Secretary of State’s office Monday, the same day the lawsuit was filed in federal court. There is a 25 day comment period for anyone who takes issues with the regulations.

“If it’s not meat, you can’t call it meat," noted Gipson. "It’s just that simple. They can say meatless, meat-free. That’s even in our rules. But I don’t know if they’ve taken the time to read the rules. Bless their heart.”

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