Mississippi Ends Ridiculous Ban On Labeling Veggie Burgers ‘Veggie Burgers’
Nick Sibilla, Senior Contributor, Forbes
Nov 7, 2019
In a win for the First Amendment, Mississippi will no longer ban plant-based food companies from labeling their products with terms like “veggie burgers” and “vegan bacon.” On Thursday, the state dropped rules that would have enforced the labeling ban, and instead replaced them with common sense.
Under the new regulations now in effect, a plant-based meat alternative won’t be considered “mislabeled” if it uses an adjective like “meatless,” “plant-based,” or “vegan,” on its labeling. Previously, meatless marketers could risk fines of up to $1,000 “per offense,” even jail time.
Claiming Mississippi’s law violates the First Amendment, the Institute for Justice sued the state in July on behalf of Upton’s Naturals, a Chicago-based vegan food business, and the Plant Based Food Association. Without the lawsuit, plant-based businesses would have faced severe financial consequences. In order to operate legally, Upton’s Naturals would have had to pull out of Mississippi entirely or drastically overhaul its packaging and design.
Not only would the latter be enormously expensive and time-consuming (especially if they’d be used in just one state), the new labels would have created confusion where none existed before. Instead of widely understood terms like “veggie burgers” or “vegan sausages,” plant-based companies would have been forced to use unwieldy (and frankly, unappetizing) alternatives like veggie “discs” or vegetable “protein tubes.”
Once a niche limited to vegetarians and vegans, more consumers are exploring plant-based alternatives to meat, whether driven by personal health, animal rights, a lower carbon footprint, or just culinary curiosity. Even mainstream chains like Burger King, Kroger, and TGI Friday’s are now selling products by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the two burgeoning titans of the meatless meat market.
Although this market is still quite small (just 1% of retail U.S. meat sales), demand is growing quickly. Worldwide, plant-based meats form a $4.6 billion industry, with U.S. sales surging 37% in the past two years.
Feeling threatened, farmers and ranchers have turned to political sausage making in state legislatures to protect their market share. Several states, including Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri, have also barred vegan companies from using meat terms, while Wisconsin is considering a similar ban.
But those businesses have been fighting back. The ACLU, the Good Food Institute, and The Tofurky Company hauled both Arkansas and Missouri into federal court over their bans.
Under the First Amendment, companies may freely engage in honest speech that doesn’t mislead customers. By clearly labeling their vegan alternatives, Upton’s Naturals and Tofurky both inform potential buyers that their products don’t contain meat, while terms like “chorizo” and “bacon” let customers know what kind of taste and texture they should expect. After all, if consumers thought those companies were selling animal flesh, that would completely undermine their business model.
The state bans are driven by blatantly protectionist motives...
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