Laws banning use of ‘meat’ phrases in veggie product labeling face legal challenges in several states

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Mississippi is one of numerous states currently facing court challenges to meat label laws that opponents say violate their First Amendment rights.

Several companies, in a lawsuit filed in early July, say the state’s new law which bans the use of meat-product phrases in vegetarian and vegan products, violates their right to free speech.

More specifically, the law bans describing a “product that contains cultured animal tissue produced from animal cell cultures outside of the organism” or plant-based and insect-based food as meat or a meat product.

The lawsuit was filed by the Institute for Justice, which operates nationally, and the Mississippi Justice Institute, a part of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. They’re representing Upton’s Naturals and the Plant Based Food Association. In addition to the lawsuit itself they have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which would delay Mississippi’s enforcement of the law until the case is settled.

Proponents say that the law will benefit of consumers and farmers.

“This bill will protect our cattle farmers from having to compete with products not harvested from an animal,” Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick said, according to the Farm Bureau’s website.

Opponents of the law claim that since meatless products are already labeled to indicate their meat content, or lack thereof, the law is unnecessary.

“People understood that food labeled meatless did not contain meat, so there was no confusion about that,” Institute for Justice attorney Justin Pearson told Mississippi Today. “The law doesn’t even do a good job of explaining what is and is not allowed…We don’t know what’s allowed and so, even though there’s no way to make the labels as clear as they are now, it’s going to be even worse because of how poorly the law was written.”

Pearson says that using meat product names to describe meat alternatives helps customers to understand which foods the products are alternatives for, the characteristics of the food itself and how to cook it.

“This new ban is nothing more than big business teaming up with big government to hurt competition,” Pearson said.

Labeling guidelines filed with the secretary of state’s office say “plant-based food product label and/or packaging may display the words “meat free,” “meatless,” or a comparable qualifier to indicate the product contains no meat.”

The lawsuit names Gov. Phil Bryant and Andy Gipson, Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner. The law, took effect July 1. Violators could face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

More recently, a lawsuit was filed July 22 over Arkansas’ law that would fine companies up to “$1,000 for every plant-based and cell-based meat product, such as ‘veggie burgers’ and ‘tofu dogs,’ marketed or packaged with a ‘meat  label.’ That lawsuit argues that the Arkansas law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 

In addition to Mississippi and Arkansas, similar laws have passed recently in other states, including Louisiana and Missouri.