After Being Sued, Mississippi Rewrites Its Unconstitutional Ban On The Use Of Meat Words By Vegan Food Producers
from the try-it-again,-but-without-all-the-favoritism dept
Mississippi legislators — apparently guided by “threatened” cattle farmers — decided to rewrite its product-labeling laws. It enacted a statute forbidding producers of non-meat products from using meat-associated terms to describe their products. This unconstitutional requirement was put in place to supposedly reduce customer confusion, but the labels targeted made it clear their products — hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. — contained zero meat.
“Vegan hot dogs” was no longer acceptable. Neither was the ubiquitous term “veggie burger.” The law required plant-based products to disassociate themselves completely from the meat products they were emulating. Very few people have been tricked into buying veggie products when they meant to purchase beef. But consumers looking to replace meat products with veggie alternatives might find it a bit more difficult to figure out what products they’re replacing when the descriptive terms aren’t all that descriptive.
The state was sued by Upton’s Naturals Co. and the Plant Based Food Association. Represented by the Institute for Justice, the plaintiffs sought an injunction blocking the law’s enforcement and a declaration that the law itself was unconstitutional.
It appears the state has decided to craft a new statute — one that doesn’t violate the First Amendment — rather than continue to fight this in court. Scott Shackford has the details at Reason.
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 The Mississippi Department of Agriculture has withdrawn the regulations it proposed to enforce the law and introduced a new set of regulations.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.”
The proposed change [PDF] still needs to be adopted and put into force, but this will allow Upton’s and others to continue selling their plant-based products without having to alter their packaging or labeling. What the new law would require is something these companies already do:
112.01 Labeling Requirements
1. A plant-based food product label shall not be false or misleading.
2. A plant-based food product shall not be labeled as a “meat” or “meat food product” as defined by Miss. Code Ann. §§75-33-3(1)(b) and 75-35-3(g). For purposes of this section, a plant-based food product will not be considered to be labeled as a “meat” or “meat food product” if one or more of the following terms, or a comparable qualifier, is prominently displayed on the front of the package: “meat free,” “meatless,” “plant-based,” “veggie-based,” “made from plants,” “vegetarian,” or “vegan.”
Governments can regulate speech to a limited extent. But the exceptions must be very narrowly-crafted and serve a “compelling” government interest. Pushing one set of competitors out of the market with ridiculous, unconstitutional speech restrictions isn’t the sort of things a government should do, especially if it has to violate the Constitution to do it.