Today, trade group Plant Based Food Association and one of its founding member companies, vegan meat brand Upton’s Naturals, joined with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit against the state of Mississippi. The lawsuit was prompted by the state’s enactment of Senate Bill 2922, legislation supported by the state’s cattlemen association that aims to remove labels on vegan foods that use terminology it deems is only appropriate for animal-derived products. The new law, according to plaintiffs, infringes upon Upton Naturals’ and other companies’ First Amendment free speech rights and creates public confusion around plant-based products. “People are not confused by terms like ‘veggie burger’ or ‘vegan hot dog,’” IJ Managing Attorney Justin Pearson said. “No one thinks plant-based burgers or vegan hot dogs contain meat. To the contrary, those terms tell consumers that they are buying exactly what they want: a plant-based alternative to animal meat. By banning the terms customers understand best, Mississippi is not only creating confusion, but also violating the First Amendment rights of both sellers and consumers.” 

Upton’s Naturals Founder Daniel Staackmann explains that the company uses terms such as “vegan bacon” and “chorizo” to convey to consumers the meat products the company is aiming to replace with seitan and jackfruit. “Our labels are not trying to trick consumers into buying our vegan foods,” Staackmann said. “We aim to clearly communicate what our foods are made from for those actively seeking vegan foods and others considering incorporating them into their diet. Mississippi’s law is not about clearing up consumer confusion, it’s about stifling competition and putting plant-based companies at a disadvantage in the marketplace.”  

Founded in 2016, PBFA currently includes 147 member companies—such as The Tofurky Co., Daiya Foods, and Follow Your Heart—that are creating plant-based alternatives to meat, milk, and other animal-derived foods. The Mississippi lawsuit is part of IJ’s broader National Food Freedom Initiative which aims to protect free speech and economic rights of Americans in the food sector. “The plant-based meat alternative category is on fire right now, with consumers demanding healthier and more sustainable options,” PBFA’s Executive Director Michele Simon said. “This law, along with similar laws in several other states, is the meat lobby’s response to the media attention PBFA members are receiving. Whatever happened to free market competition? We are proud to stand with Upton’s Naturals and the Institute for Justice to protect PBFA members’ First Amendment rights to clearly communicate to consumers.” In addition to Mississippi, nearly 30 states have either proposed or passed similar legislation, including Louisiana which passed its so-called “Truth in Labeling” law in June.

Photo Credit: Upton’s Naturals

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