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A new state law in Mississippi bans companies from using “meat” terms on packages for plant- and cell-based products. This means that even if the product is clearly labeled “vegan meat,” using the word “meat” is illegal in the state.
But vegan brand Upton’s Naturals and the Plant Based Foods Association are fighting back, filing a federal lawsuit the same day the new law went into effect. They argue that the law violates their First Amendment right to free speech and that it would harm businesses by forcing companies to make expensive changes to their packaging.
Andy Gipson, Mississippi agriculture and commerce commissioner, claims the law is meant to protect consumers from being confused by “misleading” packaging. But it may be an attempt by the meat industry to stifle competition from the rapidly growing plant-based food sector. In the lawsuit, Upton’s Naturals states that its products are clearly labeled “vegan,” “meatless,” and “plant-based,” and that terms like “burgers” and “sausages” help “increase consumer understanding of the foods’ characteristics.” The lawsuit argues, “No reasonable consumer would be misled by these uses of these terms.”
Like the meat industry, the dairy industry—including lobbying groups like the National Milk Producers Federation—is looking for technicalities to slow the spread of vegan milk and cheese products. In an effort to protect the dairy industry, U.S. senators Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jim Risch of Idaho are pushing for the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which would “require that non-dairy products made from nuts, seeds, plants, and algae no longer be confusingly labeled with dairy terms like milk, yogurt, and cheese.”
With milk sales going through a decades-long decline, the meat and dairy industries are worried. In Wisconsin, low milk prices are leading to bankruptcies, and dairy farmers are leaving the industry at a rate of three a day. Vegan businesses like Miyoko’s Kitchen, on the other hand, are booming. A new report from the global consultancy A.T. Kearney predicts that in 20 or so years, most meat will be plant- or cell-based.
Some companies have embraced change. After Dean Foods suffered a 91 percent drop in net profits, the dairy brand invested for a minority stake in flax-based vegan brand Good Karma Foods. And just recently, Enkco Holding, creator of Tesco’s groundbreaking vegan steak, announced selling its meat product business to reposition itself as Vivera Food Group, a totally vegan company.