Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · November 7, 2019

Jackson, Miss.—Today, Mississippi’s revised labeling regulations took effect allowing plant-based food companies to continue using common meat product terms like burgers and hot dogs. As a result, Upton’s Naturals and the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) today dropped a federal lawsuit they filed in July. The company and association teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to defend food companies’ First Amendment right to label food in ways that consumers understand.

Like every state, Mississippi has for decades had laws prohibiting misleading labels. Nonetheless, at the request of the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association, the Mississippi Legislature passed a law earlier this year that banned any use of meat product terms to describe plant-based foods, even when the label is not misleading. The ban took effect on July 1. Also on July 1, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture proposed regulations that would apply the ban not only to meat food terms (like burgers and hot dogs) but also to any “word or phrase that is customarily associated with a meat or a meat food product.”

That same day, Upton’s Naturals and PBFA filed the First Amendment lawsuit. In response to the lawsuit, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture withdrew its proposed regulation and replaced it with a new proposed regulation. Under the new regulation, which officially took effect today, plant-based foods will not be considered to be labeled as a “meat” or “meat food product” if their label also describes the food as: “meat-free,” “meatless,” “plant-based,” “vegetarian” “vegan” or uses any other comparable terms.

“This is a total victory,” said IJ Senior Attorney Justin Pearson, who served as the lead attorney for the challengers. “Our clients simply wanted to continue using clear labels with the terms consumers understand best. In response to our lawsuit, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture has done the right thing, so there is no need to move forward with the lawsuit.”

Upton’s Naturals, of Chicago, Illinois, is a small, independently owned producer of vegan foods founded by Daniel Staackmann in 2006. The company is focused on meat alternatives using innovative ingredients such as wheat-based seitan and jackfruit. Upton’s Naturals sells its foods across the United States and around the world. Its vegan bacon seitan, chorizo seitan and other foods can be found on shelves at Whole Foods in Jackson, Miss. Upton’s Naturals is also a founding board member of PBFA.

“We were proud to take up this fight not just for our own company but for the many plant-based food entrepreneurs providing meat alternatives nationwide,” said Dan Staackmann, founder and owner of Upton’s Naturals. “Our labels have always made it clear that our foods are 100% vegan. We have a First Amendment right to use common terms like ‘bacon’ and ‘burger’ and we’re prepared to fight for that right in any other state that passes anti-competitive laws being pushed by the meat industry.”

The Plant Based Foods Association represents over 160 member companies with a mission to build a solid foundation for the plant-based foods industry to succeed and thrive.

“We are thrilled with this common-sense outcome of our lawsuit,” said Michele Simon, PBFA’s executive director. “We hope that other states considering similar legislation will follow Mississippi’s lead in allowing clear qualifying terms that our members are already using to communicate to consumers.”

The challenge in Mississippi is part of IJ’s National Food Freedom Initiative. This nationwide campaign brings property rights, economic liberty and free speech challenges to laws that interfere with the ability of Americans to produce, market, procure and consume the foods of their choice. In 2017, IJ won a similar free speech challenge in Florida vindicating the right to describe pure, additive-free skim milk as skim milk instead of as imitation skim milk. IJ has also won a challenge to Oregon’s ban on raw milk advertising and won home bakers in Wisconsin the right to sell their goods.

“The First Amendment prevents governments from creating laws to silence entrepreneurs and protect entrenched businesses from competition,” said IJ President and General Counsel Scott Bullock. “Free markets depend on the free flow of information.”