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Mississippi Reverses Stance on Plant-Based Meat Labeling

As previously reported on this blog, Upton’s Naturals Co. and the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) filed a lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s law prohibiting cell-based, plant-based, or insect-based foods from being labeled as “meat” or a “meat food product” (i.e., “hamburgers,” “hotdogs,” etc.). The lawsuit was filed on July 1, 2019, the same day that the law took effect. The plaintiffs claimed that the Mississippi law violated their First Amendment right to free speech, among other things. The Institute for Justice (IJ) later joined the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Last week, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce proposed new regulations to implement the law that would allow the use of meat  and meat product terms on the labels of plant-based food if certain conditions are met. More specifically, the proposed regulations specify that a plant-based food product will not be considered to be labeled as a “meat” or “meat food product” if one or more of the following terms, or a comparable qualifier, is prominently displayed on the front of the package: “meat free,” “meatless,” “plant-based,” “veggie-based,” “made from plants,” “vegetarian,” or “vegan.”

After the proposed regulations were revised, Ag Commissioner Andy Gipson issued a statement on September 6, stated that the law “is constitutional and has not changed.” He added, “Our proposed rules support the law and make it clear these products cannot be false or misleading and cannot be labeled as meat or as a meat food product, but must use the qualifiers set out in the regulations.” He also claimed that there “was no need for a federal lawsuit.”

Expressing an opposing view, IJ issued a press release stating that the recently proposed regulatory changes were in response to the lawsuit. “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,” said IJ Senior Attorney Justin Pearson.

Upton’s Natural and PBFA will consider dropping their federal lawsuit if the proposed regulations are adopted after the 25-day public comment period, according to the press release. We will continue to monitor and report on legal and regulatory activity in this area.

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