The makers of ‘meatless meatballs’ and ‘vegan bacon’ sue over a Mississippi labeling law

Posted at 11:56 AM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-03 13:56:55-04

A federal lawsuit aims to keep “vegan bacon,” “meatless meatballs,” “vegan chorizo” and “meatless hot dogs” on the menu in Mississippi.

A new state law bans companies from using meaty terms to describe plant-based food products. The law also prevents insect-based and laboratory-cultured foods from being labled as “meat.”

Upton’s Naturals Co., an illinois-based vegan food company, and the Plant Based Foods Association, an industry group, say the law violates their First Amendment right to free speech.

Their lawsuit was filed Monday, the same day the law went into effect.

Mississippi Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Andy Gipson, who’s named in the lawsuit along with Gov. Phil Bryant, says that the law is intended to avoid confusing and misleading packaging.

“A food product made of insect-protein should not be deceptively labeled as beef. Someone looking to purchase tofu should not be tricked into buying lab-grown animal protein. Words mean something. We look forward to defending the law to make sure Mississippi consumers have clear information on the meat and non-meat products they purchase,” Gipson said in a statement.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs say that their products are clearly labeled as “vegan,” “meatless,” “plant-based” or other terms indicating that the products don’t contain meat.

It says that using terms such as burgers, hot dogs or sausage “increase consumer understanding of the foods’ characteristics.”

“No reasonable consumer would be misled by these uses of these terms,” the lawsuit says.

Upton’s Naturals said in the lawsuit that it “makes sure that its food labels are proudly marked as ‘vegan’ and clearly state that the foods do not contain meat.”

“It would be a disaster for Upton’s Naturals if the public were to think that the company had started selling meat,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says that the law will force companies to make expensive packaging design changes and will harm business.

The Plant Based Foods Association says it has fought food labeling bills in almost 30 states and notes that Arkansas and Louisiana have passed similar laws that have not gone into effect.

The meat-free food market is booming, with companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods becoming popular with consumers.

ConAgra CEO Sean Connolly said last month that the food company believes the overall plant-based protein market in the United States could generate $30 billion in sales each year.