Vegan Food Manufacturers Sue State Over Unconstitutional Law Banning Them From Using Meat Words

from the First-Amendment-right-to-tell-customers-what-they're-buying dept

The state of Mississippi is being sued for enacting an unconstitutional law — one that prevents certain food companies from labeling their products in a way that limits customer confusion. The Institute for Justice — representing Upton’s Naturals Co. and the Plant Based Foods Association — is seeking an injunction blocking the law from taking effect and taking away a bit of the First Amendment with it. (via Reason)

The law that took effect July 1 supposedly was crafted to eliminate customer confusion. It prevents sellers of plant-based foods from using meat-related terms on their packaging. Here it is in all its all-caps glory:


It’s only the rarest and most-inattentive of customers that accidentally purchases vegan burgers instead of the real thing. No shoppers in Mississippi were clamoring for protection from Big Vegetable’s marketing tactics. Instead, this was a gift to the local meat industry, propelled by corporate interests all the way to the governor’s desk.

The lawsuit [PDF] points out lobbying efforts began prior to the 2019 legislative session, with representatives from the meat industry openly stating they wanted to “protect” cattle farmers “from having to compete” with non-animal products. They pointed to the reduced dairy revenue caused by the introduction of soy and almond milk into the marketplace as an example of the damage they wanted to avoid.

None of these are good reasons for new laws, especially ones that prevent competitors from labeling their products in a way that makes them understandable and palatable to consumers. The ban extends to almost all commonly-used meat terms, blocking plant-based food creators from using terms like “meatless meatballs” or “vegan bacon.” The end result will be more customer confusion, not less, as those seeking vegan products will have very little information to work with when trying to replace meat products in their diets.

As the lawsuit notes, the ban is both content- and speaker-based, giving it two Constitutional strikes right off the bat. In addition, it “creates confusion and misleading speech where none previously existed.” It carves a hole in the First Amendment on behalf of a favored industry, which is certainly not a “compelling government interest.” It replaces zero harm with actual harm, which is something legislators should never strive to do.

By banning honest, accurate, and non-misleading descriptions of Plaintiffs’ products, the Ban has abridged Plaintiffs’ freedom of speech and the freedom of speech of anyone else who would otherwise used the Banned terms in a similar and non-misleading way.

The Ban irreparably harms Plaintiffs by preventing Plaintiffs from engaging in non-misleading speech about lawful goods the Plaintiffs want to sell.

The Ban also irreparably harms consumers by denying them access to useful information about lawful goods in the marketplace.

The Ban keeps consumers under-informed and confused about what is actually being offered by the seller.

The law likely won’t stay alive for long. It’s not Constitutional in its current form and it would take a lot of alteration to change it into something that doesn’t violate rights. But the longer it stays alive, the more of a burden it is for plant-based food sellers in the state. The meat lobby has turned taxpayer dollars against taxpayers by getting this law enacted, ensuring they’ll be paying for the state’s defense of its shitty law, as well as any future work the legislature needs to do to bring itself back in compliance with the Constitution.

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Comments on “Vegan Food Manufacturers Sue State Over Unconstitutional Law Banning Them From Using Meat Words”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bet the State Wins this round

meat terms would require meat to be animal based.

Yeah, the vegan companies have a weak case. If the law said they can’t describe their products as "burger replacement", "cheese-substitute", etc., I’d be on their side.

It’ll be much more interesting when the cultured meat companies get involved, and their product actually contains animal cells (though not from animals).

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Bet the State Wins this round

Yeah, the vegan companies have a weak case.

Well except for the massive first amendment issues, the complete lack of consumer confusion, and the fact that this is nothing but back-room dealing to protect government bribes, I guess.

But I guess you really are confused by the term "Veggie Burger" then it’s proof that generations of inbreeding really does take a toll.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Bet the State Wins this round

People like dropping the "argumentum" in order to sound like they have something and are smart, hoping to pull a fast one on anyone else who doesn’t understand logical fallacies. Or they just picked it up from others who use it that way, hoping to sound clever. (Or got it _n_th hand from others who don’t have a clue.)

If they want to tone troll about jabs, insults, etc., they should just own that position, but it doesn’t invalidate any arguments.

At least they didn’t append attack(s) to it, but the capitalization scheme was fun.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Bet the State Wins this round

Well except for the massive first amendment issues

How do you determine they’re "massive"? Any product labeling law is going to restrict speech, which is not allowed by the first amendment. Courts have been ignoring that for two centuries; why would they care now?

Nobody’s confused by "veggie burger", but there’re definitely some sketchcy vegan products where they’ll say something like "chick’n" in large letters and it’s not obvious they’re not meat. If this is anything like trademark law where you just need a "moron in a hurry" being confused, restrictions could be justified.

Anon says:

Re: Re: Re: Bet the State Wins this round

No. The state has and has always had the right to set standards for Truth in Labelling laws. If it contains the word "meat" consumers expect meat. There is no long tradition of using meat to describe tofu, chickpeas, or similar substitutes. Even using the word "meat" in the name can be confusing – is "Meat substitute" a substitute for meat, or a meat that is a substitute (for something)?

There’s a similar issue where you can’t call a drink "fruit juice" unless it’s juice, from fruit. If it’s water and sugar, artificial flavour, and a smattering of fruit juice it’s "drink" not "juice".

"Burger" may or may not imply meat. (Veggie burger has been with us for years and is unmistakably NOT meat. Chickenburger, is meat) Hamburger certainly does imply meat. Similarly, steak, bacon, meatloaf – all imply meat.

There may come a day when consumers are aware that much of what passes for "meat" isn’t but that day is not today.

OTOH, the cultured meat makers may have a case.

Anon says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Bet the State Wins this round

Because the buyer may not be too swift – is it a replacement for ground beef, or ground beef that is a replacement for something? Especially if it’s made to look and behave like ground beef – it becomes confusing.

We are also seeing "Beyond Meat" as a brand. That too is going to be confusing to the hard of thinking. The manufacturers, being young hip and "with it", may know what you mean but your 55-year-old aunt in Peoria may be confused.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Bet the State Wins this round

that is exactly what the law says.

also, "burger" means "someone from a town". in this case, a shortening of "Hamburger-style ground beef". beef industry has about zero compelling interest in the actual words. we can ask the city and residents of Hamburg to weigh in on that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bad example

The Reason article links to a Yves "Good Veggie Burger" page. The package shows a picture of a burger and says "4 juicy burgers", but the products are not actually burgers—they’re burger patties without buns. So even if "veggie burger" is OK, as it should be ("hamburger" is the regulated term and they don’t say it), that’s a fraudulent package, and any anti-fraud legislation needs to carve a hole in the First Amendment.

Anonymous Coward says:


So; we’ve got the plant-based distributors upset that they have to say "bacon alternative" instead of "vegan bacon" on the package.

But to me, there’s a bigger issue here. Over time, different tissues have been considered "meat". In some places, "meat" meant cow. In other places, it meant "cow or pig." In others, it meant "cow, pig, chicken, sheep or goat." Eventually, fish got added too.

But why is insect meat not allowed to be included here? I know that most vegans would be pretty upset if they bought something with insects in it because the product wasn’t allowed to include the word "meat" — and in fact could call it "meatless" by this law’s interpretation.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Two ways to think about that

The first is that if cockroach parts were found in a beef patty the health department would go uncontrollably crazy.

The second is, if the product were made entirely of cockroaches but the source of the nutrition was masked in some way, the consumers, as well as the health department would go uncontrollably crazy if they found out.

Then, compared to those societies that endorse cockroach protein in chocolate covered forms, or deep fried, or prepared some other way, is our potential for insanity when cockroaches become a part of our food chain abnormal?

As to whether the cockroaches as protein should be disclosed or not, it is gonna take some time for acceptance in some cultures as much time and effort has been expended on vilifying cockroaches in food. The marketing folks probably feel a need to hide it, in face of the competing propaganda, but at the same time feel a need for truth in advertising. Time will tell. The question that remains is whether the new food sources can withstand the wait?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Two ways to think about that

“With the hot dog there was always a feeling of implied consent. We always knew—or assumed we knew—that whatever was inside that snappy tube, it might contain anything from 100 percent kosher beef to dead zoo animals or parts of missing Gambino family. With a hot dog, especially New York’s famous "dirty-water hot dog", there was a tacit agreement that you were on your own.”

Tony Bourdain

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Where do you get that vegan bacon is bad but that bacon alternative (without indicating that it is plant based), is OK? Turkey Bacon can also be called a bacon alternative (bacon being a specific cut of meat from a pig). I question if using "vegan bacon alternative" really is a strong distinction, and therefore the weaker Bacon Alternative seems to fall under this law.

Anonymous Coward says:

This isn’t about "free speech". It’s about truth in marketing.

This issue goes back over five hundred years ago, with the Bavarian beer purity law, which allowed brewers to use any ingredients they wanted, as long as they didn’t call it beer.

At least be glad that this is an actual law, and not something coming out of some regulatory agency which rules by decree.

And compared to countries such as France, the US has always been very lenient in allowing food manufacturers the freedom to deviate from historical definitions of foods without running afoul of laws and regulations.

PNRCinema (profile) says:


Did anyone see the CBS Sunday Morning piece on "Impossible" burgers and cultured meats this past weekend? I have to be totally honest here – the people who run these two companies come across as totally arrogant, holier than thou, "We know what’s best for EVERYBODY and we’re going to force our way down your throats" kind of people. Both company heads are on record as saying that they’re in this to drive the meat industry to it’s knees, that they want to stop the whole world from ever eating meat again. No indication what they intend to do with the animals when the planet gets overrun by them. Not to mention that, as an unabashed steak lover, watching the process of both products being made does not give me an appetite to try either one of them…bleah…if interested, you can check it out at

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Well...

No indication what they intend to do with the animals when the planet gets overrun by them.

One possible outcome could be that of India, where millions of cows roam freely, causing destruction and blocking roads, and where anyone who dares to do anything about it could face an angry lynch mob.

as an unabashed steak lover, watching the process of both products being made does not give me an appetite to try either one of them…bleah…

Would watching real steaks being made give you an appetite? The animal rights activists who secretly film the dark side of the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival (which just ended a week ago) are apparently hoping that showing what really goes on away from public eyes will create less demand for dog meat, not more.

Roy Rogers says:

Re: Re: Well...

"Would watching real steaks being made give you an appetite?"

Any one aspect of it?
Yes. Just thinking about it makes me want to fire up the BBQ.

Start to finish is a lot of work and is guaranteed to work up an appetite. If you watched in real time.

People eat Pâté at wakes

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Well...

No indication what they intend to do with the animals when the planet gets overrun by them.

Laughably, this is not a problem. Who told you that we are going to be over run by cows, InfoWars?

It’d be funny but we are really doing some serious harm. Especially to the fish species we consider delicious. But if "Animals will over run us if we don’t eat more" make you sleep better – you are a liar, or walking proof of inbreeding, eh?

frank87 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Well...

I think he refers to the fact that most vegans don’t want to kill any animal. And some of them are pretty extreme: if you hurt an animal, you’re evil. If the animal hurts you, it’s your fault too.
Yes, people are killing animals, but without it we would have serious problems. Rats would eat our grains, birds would eat our fruits, and bears would eat our children.
Your reference is about killing more animals than we used to do (most of them through modifying the environment), not about killing animals.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re:

coconut milk

Dairy States consider this horrible false advertising and have tried to block "Soy Milk", "Almond Milk" etc. Because despite the use of the word "Soy" anything that includes "Milk" is tortuous if it doesn’t come from cows.

Moo. And once again – Anyone who Claims to be confused be this is either lying, or inbred. (Err, or both.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Dairy States consider this horrible false advertising and have tried to block "Soy Milk", "Almond Milk" etc.

Anyone who Claims to be confused be this is either lying, or inbred. (Err, or both.)

Vegans will argue endlessly that soy and almond milk are legitimate alternatives to animal milk so make of that what you will.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Truth in advertizing

Why should you call something a meatball if it’s not a ball made of meat?

Restrictions on speech aren’t about what people should call things, they’re about what people can call things.

Truth-in-advertising (no "z") laws are about protecting consumers from being misled. "Meatless meatballs" is not misleading; only a moron in a hurry would think "meatless meatballs", "veggie burgers", "almond milk", etc. are terms that imply that a food or beverage is an animal product.

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