Food Labeling

Mississippi Retreats on Stupid Attempts to Censor 'Veggie Burger' Labels

Nobody is being "confused" by vegetarian meat substitutes.

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A beef between Mississippi lawmakers and producers of meat substitutes may be ending with a satisfactory compromise.

Mississippi passed a law earlier this year that banned labeling plant-based meat substitutes (veggie burgers, etc.) as "meat" or a "meat food product." This silly state-mandated censorship was an attempt to help protect entrenched agricultural interests from competition. Proponents claimed the law was intended to prevent "confusion," which is utter nonsense. People are not generally tricked into buying meat substitutes based on food labels, and vegan and vegetarian foods clearly label themselves as such specifically to appeal to those who don't eat real meat. There was really no pressing reason for the Mississippi lawmakers to get involved, except to satisfy producers of beef, chicken, and pork products at a time where the quality of meatless substitutes is improving and potentially reaching a greater number of customers.

The Institute for Justice, teaming up with the Plant Based Foods Association and a vegan food company called Upton's Naturals, filed a federal suit in July to block the law, arguing that it violated of the First Amendment rights of businesses such as Upton's. As institute attorney Justin Pearson noted back in July, "Under the First Amendment, businesses should be able to use almost any word they want, as long as consumers understand what they are saying. People know that vegan burgers do not come from cows. That is why they are called 'vegan.'"

Today the Institute of Justice announced what appears to be a successful end to the fight. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture has withdrawn the regulations it proposed to enforce the law and introduced a new set of regulations. Under the new proposal, it's still wrong for a plant-based food product to be labeled as "meat" or a "meat food product," but there will be exceptions for products that include an appropriate qualifying term on the label, such as "plant-based," "meatless," "vegetarian," or "vegan."

So terms like "veggie burgers" or "meatless bacon" will be allowed on labels in Mississippi. Upton's Naturals can still sell its seitan "Classic Burger"—seitan is a wheat gluten meat substitute—as long as the label also makes it clear it's not beef.

"The new proposed regulation is a victory for the First Amendment and for common sense," Pearson said in a statement today. "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."

If the proposed regulations are adopted (there's a 25-day period for the Department of Agriculture to accept comments), the institute, Upton's, and the Plant Based Foods Association will consider dropping their federal lawsuit.

And there's more good news on the horizon for anyone who's been looking to make the shift away from real meat but doesn't want to miss the flavor: At the end of July, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of Impossible Burger meat directly to consumers at supermarkets. Starting later this fall, you will no longer have to go to restaurants to get them; you'll be able to bring them home and craft your own recipes. I've had one myself, and yeah, beef producers should maybe be just a little bit worried.

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  1. “Mississippi Retreats on Stupid Attempts to Censor ”

    Brandybuck hardest hit.

  2. beef producers should maybe be just a little bit worried.

    Psssh
    Yeah, right.

    1. I’d be more sympathetic to the stance against food labeling regulations if these lies weren’t so blatant. Like Bailey discussing the marbling of a ground veggie patty.

  3. beef producers should maybe be just a little bit worried

    Yeah, not really. Out of curiosity, I tried the impossible whopper. Meh. It tasted like a whopper, I guess, but that’s not saying much. That will most likely be the only one I ever have. Maybe I should try a $15 impossible burger at a better burger place, but I’m just not interested enough to spend that much on a veggie burger.

    1. Maybe I should try a $15 impossible burger at a better burger place

      I have. Still tastes like a Whopper.

    2. I had my first Impossible Whopper a couple of weeks ago, and I agree. It tastes like a Whopper, which isn’t saying much. I will say this, however: I can, once again, enjoy a halfway-decent hamburger while I am on the road. This is good!

      As far as the competition, I prefer the Beyond Meat burger, which while certainly not comparable to a top-notch beef burger, is definitely a step above what has been available. Of course, one reason it tastes so good is that it is full of fat and salt, just like the real thing. This is not health food.

  4. Mississippi passed a law earlier this year that banned labeling plant-based meat substitutes (veggie burgers, etc.) as “meat” or a “meat food product.”

    With all due respect, Scott, this doesn’t seem like “silly censorship”. It’s OK to label snake oil as a “meat food product”, though.

    1. That’s pretty funny. In an apparent attempt to get in a witty comment with some relevance, you read just enough, then stopped, and if you’d bothered to read the rest, you’d see your wit was mistaken.

      1. it’s still wrong for a plant-based food product to be labeled as “meat” or a “meat food product,” but there will be exceptions for products that include an appropriate qualifying term on the label, such as “plant-based,” “meatless,” “vegetarian,” or “vegan.” So terms like “veggie burgers” or “meatless bacon” will be allowed on labels in Mississippi.

        But terms like “veggie meat” or “meatless meat food product” will not be allowed, right? RIGHT?!

  5. There is no such thing as meatless bacon or even turkey bacon since bacon is cured pig belly and has no other meaning. Meatless bacon is also not a meat product as it contains no meat and probably no animal products whatsoever. “Meatless bacon-substitute” or “meatless imitation-bacon” as well as “turkey imitation-bacon” make more sense. As all kinds of new alternative foods become widely available, stricter definitions of certain foods and more clear labeling could be helpful for consumers and prevent deceptive advertising. Things like “cheese product” and “American singles” still seem like they are not labeled clearly enough as well as many other food products not just meat-substitute products.

    Anyway, why are vegans throwing such a fit over the thought of labeling their products as clearly not being meat or animal product? Isn’t the entire point that they are NOT selling meat, meat product, or animal food product?

    1. Ness: “Anyway, why are vegans throwing such a fit over the thought of labeling their products as clearly not being meat or animal product? Isn’t the entire point that they are NOT selling meat, meat product, or animal food product?”

      You are absolutely right: manufacturers of vegan or vegetarian products go out of their way to label their products as such, because that it their consumer base. I am one of those consumers.
      The problem comes with being able to use words like “burger,” as in “meatless burger.” Even “almond milk” has been targeted, though it has been called that, in many different languages, for well over a thousand years, and “veggie burgers” date back, I don’t know, at least 50 years. It’s about the freedom to label the product as to its intended use. Like “No-Chicken Broth” and countless other products.

    2. And calling that casserole they make in Chicago “pizza” is just an abomination.

      And another thing. Was visiting with my daughter and she said they were ordering pizza what kind did I want. I said “oh anything”. She said “how about ranch chicken?” I told her that her real parents were an escaped convict and a nun and she was adopted.

    3. Ness, what do you care if some company wants to use the word “bacon” in a different way than your narrow definition of it? Are you the food-word police? Can I see your badge?

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