JACKSON, Miss. – In July, Mississippi banned makers of plant-based foods from using meat-based terms — such as bacon, burger or hot dog — to describe their products. That law remains in effect, however plant-based food producers can avoid running afoul of the law by using “appropriate qualifiers.”
Under a proposed rule introduced on Sept. 5, a plant-based product will not be considered labeled as a “meat” or “meat food product” as long as the front of the package prominently displays terms such as “meat free,” “meatless,” “plant-based,” “veggie-based,” “made from plants,” “vegetarian,” “vegan” or other comparable terms. The Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA) and Upton’s Naturals, a member company challenged the state’s food labeling law in federal court on First Amendment grounds arguing that the current ban as written would have prevented plant-based food producers from using those same terms.
Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson explained in a statement that the proposed rule evolved from comments and input from interested parties working “…to tighten up our original proposed rules.”
“We’re pleased with these proposed rules,” Gipson added, “and once they are finalized, the Department will act to enforce the law and rules.”
Update on the Fake Meat Lawsuit! pic.twitter.com/bO3jQumjVH— Commissioner Andy Gipson (@CommAndyGipson) September 6, 2019
Currently, Mississippi Code Section 75-35-15 states that: “No item or product subject to this article shall be sold or offered for sale by any person, firm, or corporation, under any name or other marking or labeling which is false or misleading, or in any container of a misleading form or size, but established trade names and other marking and labeling and containers which are not false or misleading and which are approved by the commissioner, are permitted. A food product that contains cultured animal tissue produced from animal cell cultures outside of the organism from which it is derived shall not be labeled as meat or a meat food product. A plant-based or insect-based food product shall not be labeled as meat or a meat food product.”
The law is constitutional, Gipson said, and has not changed. Further, the proposed rules support the current law.
“The definitions of ‘meat’ and ‘meat food product’ have not changed,” he said. “And our proposed rules continue to require these products to have appropriate qualifiers. If we find potentially false or misleading products, we have the authority to investigate and act; and we will.”
The Arlington, Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of PBFA and Upton’s Naturals, applauded the proposed regulation as a victory for vegan and vegetarian food producers.
“The new proposed regulation is a victory for the First Amendment and for common sense,” said Justin Pearson, senior attorney at Institute for Justice. “Our lawsuit made it clear that subjecting plant-based food companies to possible criminal prosecution for using common terms on their labels would be a violation of their free speech rights. Mississippi has made the wise decision to change those regulations so that companies will be free to continue selling vegan and vegetarian burgers and other meat alternatives in the Magnolia State.”
The proposed rule is open for comment for 25 days. If adopted, Upton’s Naturals and PBFA said they would consider dropping their lawsuit.