Under a new regulation proposed by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture in response to a First Amendment lawsuit, vegan and vegetarian food companies would be allowed to continue using meat and meat product terms on their food labels.
The proposed regulation reverses course from the law banning plant-based foods from using meat product terms like “burger,” “bacon” and “hot dog” on their labels, as well as the department’s July 1 proposed regulation giving force to the ban. The July 1 proposed regulation has now been withdrawn.
In early July, vegan food company Upton’s Naturals and the Plant Based Foods Assn. (PBFA) joined with the Institute for Justice to sue the state for violating the First Amendment right of companies to label food in ways that consumers understand, and this new regulation is a direct result of the lawsuit.
“The new proposed regulation is a victory for the First Amendment and for common sense,” Institute for Justice senior attorney Justin Pearson said. “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.”
Upton’s Naturals of Chicago, Ill., is a small, independently owned producer of vegan foods that was founded by Daniel Staackmann in 2006. The company is focused on meat alternatives using innovative ingredients such as wheat-based seitan and jackfruit. Upton’s Naturals sells its foods across the U.S. and around the world. Its vegan bacon seitan, chorizo seitan and other foods can be found on shelves at Whole Foods in Jackson, Miss. Upton’s Naturals is also a founding board member of PBFA.
“At Upton’s Naturals, we are proud that our foods are 100% vegan, which is why we took up this First Amendment fight,” Staackmann said. “Our clearly labeled products will remain on shelves in Mississippi. The state is making the right choice for consumers who are seeking out meat alternatives and want to understand what they are purchasing.”
“Mississippi is doing the right thing, and it’s time for other states to follow its example,” PBFA executive director Michele Simon said. “We look forward to working with other states to find similarly constructive solutions.”
The regulation states that plant-based foods will not be considered to be labeled as a “meat” or “meat food product” if the label also describes the food as: “meat-free,” “meatless,” “plant-based,” “vegetarian” or “vegan” or uses other comparable terms. The proposal will be open for public comment for 25 days. Should the proposed regulations be adopted, Upton’s Naturals and PBFA said in a statement they will consider dropping their federal lawsuit.