- Mississippi has proposed new rules allowing makers of plant-based foods to comply with its recently adopted ban on meat-based terms by using a "comparable qualifier" on package labeling. These qualifiers include terms such as "meat free," "meatless," "plant-based," "veggie-based," "made from plants," "vegetarian," or "vegan."
- If this change is adopted — it was proposed Sept. 5 and is open for public comment for 25 days — a lawsuit from Upton's Naturals and the Plant Based Foods Association filed against the state's labeling law may be dropped, according to the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based nonprofit law firm representing the plaintiffs.
- Mississippi's law went into effect July 1 and prohibits plant-based or cell-cultured products from being labeled as meat or a meat food product. Supporters said using such terms on plant-based products were deceptive and confusing to consumers. Opponents said the law violated the First Amendment and that reasonable consumers aren't misled by plant-based product labeling.
Mississippi may have decided to change its new labeling law in order to settle the current lawsuit — and potentially deter others from being filed — or it may have been listening to feedback it has received since the law went into effect in July.
The feedback was cited by Andy Gipson, the state's commissioner of agriculture and commerce, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Upton's Naturals and the PBFA. In a Sept. 6 statement reported by Meat + Poultry, Gipson said comments and work with interested parties have tightened up the original proposed rules, but the law "is constitutional and has not changed," nor have the definitions of "meat" and "meat food product."
"If we find potentially false or misleading products, we have the authority to investigate and act; and we will," Gipson told the publication. "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 added that "veggie burgers" have never been outlawed by the law or the proposed rules.
Should the rule change be adopted, plant-based food manufacturers are likely to breathe a sigh of relief since no company wants to spend time and money to redesign labels just to sell products in Mississippi. Plant-based manufacturers say consumers are aware their products don't contain real meat, and changing labels to conform to state law would create confusion where none exists.
Dan Staackmann, founder and owner of Upton’s Naturals, said in a statement the company's "clearly labeled products will remain on shelves" in the state, and that Mississippi "is making the right choice for consumers who are seeking out meat alternatives and want to understand what they are purchasing."
While Mississippi isn't the only state to prohibit meat-based terms on plant-based or cell-cultured products — Missouri, Arkansas and several others have passed similar laws — it is the first one to back off from banning plant-based label terms, according to Vox.
The publication noted plant-based products have been sold at retail across the country for years, but they didn't attract opposition until meat alternatives became popular. According to the Good Food Institute, U.S. sales of all plant-based meat — refrigerated and frozen — were up 10% last year, bringing the category's worth to more than $800 million and comprising 2% of all retail packaged meat sales.
Labeling laws passed in Arkansas and Missouri also have drawn legal challenges. It remains to be seen whether those states will follow Mississippi's lead and allow plant-based products to use a "comparable qualifier" on package labeling in order to settle them. If they don't, makers of meatless products sporting meat-like terms might have to find another way to describe them — or lawyer up to try and avoid that outcome.