Mississippi’s revised labeling regulations have taken effect, allowing plant-based food companies to continue using common meat product terms like “burgers” and “hot dogs.” As a result, Upton’s Naturals and the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) have dropped a federal lawsuit they filed in July. The company and association teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to defend food companies’ First Amendment right to label food in ways that consumers understand.
At the request of the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association, the Mississippi Legislature passed a law earlier this year that banned any use of meat product terms to describe plant-based foods. The ban took effect on July 1. On that same day, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture proposed regulations that would apply the ban not only to meat food terms but also to any “word or phrase that is customarily associated with a meat or a meat food product.”
That same day, Upton’s Naturals and PBFA filed the First Amendment lawsuit. In response to the lawsuit, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture withdrew its proposed regulation and replaced it with a new proposed regulation. Under the new regulation, which officially took effect November 7, plant-based foods will not be considered to be labeled as a “meat” or “meat food product” if their label also describes the food as: “meat-free,” “meatless,” “plant-based,” “vegetarian,” “vegan,” or uses any other comparable terms.
Based in Chicago, Upton’s Naturals is a small, independently owned producer of vegan foods—focused on meat alternatives—using ingredients such as wheat-based seitan and jackfruit. Upton’s Naturals is also a founding board member of PBFA.
“We were proud to take up this fight not just for our own company but for the many plant-based food entrepreneurs providing meat alternatives nationwide,” said Dan Staackmann, founder and owner of Upton’s Naturals. “Our labels have always made it clear that our foods are 100% vegan. We have a First Amendment right to use common terms like ‘bacon’ and ‘burger’ and we’re prepared to fight for that right in any other state that passes anti-competitive laws being pushed by the meat industry.”
“When the ‘veggie burger gang’ filed a lawsuit against the State of Mississippi’s meat labeling laws earlier this year, I said it was unfortunate the plaintiffs resorted to litigation without reviewing our proposed rules and offering comments to them,” said Mississippi Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Andy Gipson in a statement. “I said at the time Mississippi’s meat labeling law is constitutional and we would defend it and win. And I said their lawsuit was ‘hogwash.’ Now, they have withdrawn their lawsuit because they did what I said they should have done, work with us on the proposed rules. The law remains intact. What they claimed in their unnecessary and frivolous lawsuit was not true. And Mississippi’s meat law, passed unanimously by the Mississippi legislature, will be enforced by the Department of Agriculture as the legislature intended.”
“We are thrilled with this common-sense outcome of our lawsuit,” said Michele Simon, PBFA’s executive director. “We hope that other states considering similar legislation will follow Mississippi’s lead in allowing clear qualifying terms that our members are already using to communicate to consumers.”
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