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Mississippi prohibits grocery stores from calling vegetarian burgers "vegetarian burgers"

The vegetable meat movement took a few months – so well that the adversaries of the young industry are starting to mobilize.

This week, a new law came into force in Mississippi. The state now prohibits plant-based meat suppliers from using labels such as "Veggie Burger" or "Vegan Hot Dog" for their products. Such labels may be punished with jail. Words such as "burger" and "hot dog" would only be allowed for products of slaughtered animals. Proponents claim that the law is necessary in order not to confuse consumers. Given that the term "veggie burger" has not been particularly confusing to consumers all along, it certainly seems more of an effort to keep alternatives to meat away from the buyers.

] "The category of herbal based meat alternatives is currently on fire and consumers are calling for healthier and more sustainable options," said Michele Simon, CEO of the Plant-Based Foods Association, in a statement. "This law, along with similar laws in several other states, is the answer of the meat lobby."

The producers of meat alternatives sue. In a lawsuit filed on July 2, they argue that consumers are not confused because their products are already labeled as "vegan." If anything, the requirement to avoid product descriptions like "veggie burger" makes things more confusing.

"There is no evidence that consumers are confused by herbal bacon or veggie burger labels, and there are already federal laws prohibiting consumer fraud," said Jessica Almy, Director of Policy at the Good Food Institute, an organization committed to improving access to plant foods. "This law is a tremendous transgression of state power."

And that's not the only problem. Food scientists are currently working on cell-based meat products that are identical to meat from animals, but are grown from stem cells in a factory. The products (which are not yet on the market) are meat in every way. Especially if you are allergic to meat, you are allergic to the products, and the items must be stored, refrigerated and treated like meat. However, under existing Mississippi law, it would be illegal to disclose this on the label.

This legal fight is important. Such labeling laws have been discussed throughout the country, and the courts will soon discuss whether they are constitutional. At the same time, the federal supervisory authorities in the federal states are seeking indications of labeling laws for plant-based meat. Aggressive bans could slow down the growth of plant-based alternatives that are urgently needed.

The plant-based backlash for meat is here

"This bill protects our livestock owners from having to compete with products not harvested from any animal," said Mike McCormick, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation in January, as Mississippi is not the first state to consider this, Missouri passed the first such labeling law last year, and it was taken to court by groups such as the Good Food Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union argued that such was a "content-based, overarching, and vague" limitation The language companies used to describe their products was unconstitutional, and the lawsuit is currently under scrutiny.

Dozens of others States have since considered similar laws Etze are popular with farmers and ranchers, whose business model is threatened by the increasing popularity of vegetable meat.

This game could seem premature. While plant-based meat is sure to become more popular, all plant-based meat products still account for only a tiny fraction of the meat requirement. And herbal alternatives are not changing the meat industry yet: the demand for meat actually increased last year.

But vegetable flesh creates hope ̵

1; and sellers of traditional meat fear – that this might change someday. A climate-conscious population is increasingly suffering from the problems of CO2 emissions and land use associated with conventional meat production, and economies of scale may allow more cost-competitive vegetable alternatives to meat. While this day is still a long way off and still quite speculative, the possibility for lobbyists has clearly prompted action.

The argument of freedom of speech

But is this action constitutional? Past court decisions indicate that this may not be the case.

Federal laws prohibit the labeling of food in ways that deceive the consumer. Of course, you can not call a product gluten-free or "olive oil" unless it's made from olives. When laws have tried to go beyond, they have usually met a skeptical audience in court.

In a California case, the courts ruled that asserting that terms like "soy milk" and "almond milk" were confusing consumers was nonsense. "At the heart of the claims is that a reasonable consumer might confuse herbal drinks like soymilk or almond milk for milk, because the word" milk "is used," wrote the USDistrict Court for the Northern District of California, dismissing it. "The claim extends the limits of credibility. According to the plaintiffs' logic, a reasonable consumer might also believe that vegetarian bacon contains pork, flour-free chocolate cake contains flour, or that e-books are made from paper.

In one case in Florida, the right to freedom of expression was directly investigated on food labels. Skim milk is routinely fortified with vitamin A (which prevents blindness and is removed when skimming). A law in Florida banned manufacturers of milk and dairy products from selling their products when vitamin A was omitted, and demanded that milk be labeled "skim milk imitation" without the addition of vitamin A. Skimmed milk and that they should have the right to do so mark. The courts sided with the milk producer.

Does it make any sense to say that a dairy or Tofurky maker has a right to freedom of expression? The answer is yes. The first change can be applied to commercial language – although the law is somewhat complicated. In the 1940s, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that there was no First Amendment protection for purely commercial statements. In the 1970s, the Court re-examined this and reversed it in 1976.

In 1980, the Court provided the rules for the first-to-trade protection in commercial language, which still apply today. These rules are referred to as the "Central Hudson" test, as set forth in Central Hudson Gas & Electric Company v. Public Service Commission of New York .

Here are the rules: First, commercial speech "Must involve legitimate activities and must not be misleading." Advocates of the Mississippi Act could argue that the term "plant-based burgers" is misleading, while opponents argue that consumers know exactly what a vegetable burger is.

"There is nothing misleading about the name of a veggie burger, a vegan hot dog, or a seitan bacon," Almy, Missouri lawyer, told me. "The packaging clearly states that it's vegetable food, which have the taste or consistency of that familiar food. "

Although the speech concerns lawful acts and is not misleading, the government can still govern them but it must meet the following standards: The regulation must "directly and materially promote the essential interest of the government" and "the regulation must be closely co-ordinated".

There is a strong case that prohibits veggie burger and Tofu sausage labels do not meet this standard. "There is considerable evidence that the motivation behind this law is to encourage livestock to protect them from the competition, "Almy told me. This would not be a major state interest, and the prohibition of words such as "beef" and "pork", but also words such as "burgers" and "sausages", runs the risk that the law is not narrow. "There are many ways to make sure consumers understand what they are buying without banning entire categories of words," Almy said.

If the law of Mississippi is found unconstitutional, that's good news for consumers. There is no sign that they are being cheated on the growing importance of plant-based burgers – if anything, they seem to be looking for them frequently.

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