JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A federal lawsuit filed by a Chicago vegan food maker says Mississippi is violating free-speech rights by banning makers of plant-based foods from using terms such as "meatless meatballs" and "vegan bacon."
It was filed the same day Mississippi enacted a new law that bans plant-based products from being labeled as meat.
"The ban serves only to create consumer confusion where none previously existed," says the lawsuit, which is backed by the Institute for Justice, a free-market advocacy group based in Virginia.
A similar food labeling lawsuit was filed in Missouri last year by the Oregon-based Tofurky Co., which makes vegetarian food products, and The Good Food Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for alternatives to meat. A Missouri law made it a misdemeanor to label plant-based products as meat.
Producers of beef, poultry, pork and lamb have been pushing to protect meat terminology as companies develop more plant-based products that look and taste similar to meat.
In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed a law to keep veggie products from being called meat, non-rice products from being described as rice and sugar alternatives from being marketed as sugar. It becomes law in October 2020.
The chairman of the Mississippi Senate Agriculture Committee, Republican Billy Hudson of Hattiesburg, was chief sponsor of the meat labeling legislation. He said the state agriculture department and the Mississippi Cattlemen's Association pushed for it because of concerns that consumers could be misled. The Mississippi law also says food produced using animal tissue cultured in a laboratory may not be labeled as meat.
"They tell me that fake steak looks just like our real meat," Hudson told The Associated Press on Monday. He said if a consumer sees two similar products side by side, they could think they're getting meat when they're not.
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