A new law in Mississippi (SB 2922) bans the use of certain descriptive words traditionally associated with meat products on labels for vegetarian and vegan plant-based products. As of July 1, 2019, words such as “burger” and “hot dog” can only be used if the product is made of animal meat. That means the name “veggie burger” is no longer permitted on labels for plant-based patties. The ban also applies to food made from insects and meats made in a lab from cultured animal cells (as opposed to slaughtered livestock).
Andy Berry, Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President, stated last year, “We’re concerned about how those products are labeled… People have a choice, and we don’t want them to be mislead or maybe even tricked into buying something that is ‘meat’ that has no meat in it.” The new law is meant to protect consumers from confusion and manufacturers from unfair competition with plant-based products, according to proponents.
The ban is being challenged in court by the Institute for Justice and the Plant Based Foods Association, among other groups. Missouri passed a similar law in 2018, which is also being challenged in court as a First Amendment violation by groups including the Good Food Institute and the ACLU.
Jessica Almy, Director of Policy at the Good Food Institute, said, “There is no evidence that consumers are confused by plant-based bacon or veggie burger labels, and federal laws are already in place that prohibits consumer deception. This law is a tremendous overstep of state powers.”
Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson defended the law, saying, “It’s not a free speech violation to require the truth in consumer products. And to claim that something is meat that isn’t meat is not true.”
A US District Court in California previously ruled that consumers were not being tricked into mistaking plant-based products for animal-based products in a 2013 case regarding the use of the word “milk.” The ruling stated, “The crux of the claims is that a reasonable consumer might confuse plant-based beverages such as soymilk or almond milk for dairy milk, because of the use of the word ‘milk.’ The Court finds such confusion highly improbable because of the use of the words ‘soy’ and ‘almond.’ Plaintiffs essentially allege that a reasonable consumer would view the terms ‘soymilk’ and ‘almond milk,’ disregard the first words in the names, and assume that the beverages came from cows. The claim stretches the bounds of credulity.”
Vegan and vegetarian products have come under labeling scrutiny in other places as well. In Canada, Blue Heron Creamery can no longer use the word “cheese” for their plant-based dairy-free products as of Feb. 2019. Words like Cheddar and chèvre are also prohibited. A German court ruled similarly against cheese-substitute manufacturer TofuTown in 2016. In the European Union, “veggie burgers” may soon be called “veggie discs” following the European parliament’s agriculture committee approval of a ban on using meat-related terminology on vegetarian food.
Sales of plant-based “meats” increased 42% from 2016 to 2019; the market for these products is worth an estimated $12.1 billion in 2019 and could reach $27.9 billion by 2025. Beyond Meat, a plant-based food manufacturer, almost doubled its net revenue from $32.6 million in 2017 to $87.9 million in 2018. Fast food restaurants such as Burger King and Del Taco now offer plant-based “fake meat” substitutes in some locations.
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CaseText.com, “Ang v. Whitewave Foods Co.,” casetext.com, Dec. 10, 2013
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