The Mississippi Department of Agriculture is tightening up its July 1 proposed legislation that bans plant-based, cell-based or insect-based products from being labeled as “meat.” The department has proposed new regulations that would allow vegan and vegetarian food companies to use meat and meat product terms on their food labels if the label also describes the food as “meat-free,” “meatless,” “plant-based,” “vegetarian” or “vegan” or uses other comparable terms. Following the July 1 proposed legislation, Upton’s Naturals and the Plant Based Foods Association had filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming the new law violated the First Amendment right of the companies to label food in ways that consumers understand.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson issued the following statement regarding the ongoing rule making process involving Mississippi’s “meat” and “meat food product” labeling law and proposed rules.
“We are continuing our rule-making process to enforce Mississippi’s law prohibiting plant-based, insect-based or lab-grown cell cultures from being labeled as ‘meat’ or a ‘meat food product.’ Since July, we’ve received comments and worked with interested parties to tighten up our original proposed rules. We’re pleased with these proposed rules, and once they are finalized, the department will act to enforce the law and rules.
“The law is constitutional and has not changed. The definitions of ‘meat’ and ‘meat food product’ have not changed. And our proposed rules continue to require these products have appropriate qualifiers. If we find potentially false or misleading products, we have the authority to investigate and act; and we will. Our proposed rules support the law and make it clear these products cannot be false or misleading and cannot be labeled as meat or as a meat food product, but must use the qualifiers set out in the regulations.
“In July, when the State of Mississippi was sued over our law, I said it was unfortunate the plaintiffs resorted to litigation without reviewing our proposed rules, or offering comments to those proposed rules. Since that time, the plaintiffs and other parties have come to our table to offer comments and work through the routine rule making process. Contrary to what the plaintiffs have been saying, ‘veggie burgers’ have never been outlawed by the Mississippi law or proposed rules. I think the plaintiffs finally figured that out. There was no need for a federal lawsuit; the law is constitutional; and it is my understanding the plaintiffs plan to dismiss their own lawsuit against the law once the rules are finalized. It’s a shame the plaintiffs chose to waste taxpayer resources with a lawsuit rather than working through the normal public rule making process.
“As from the beginning, we are going to enforce this constitutional law with common sense regulations to make sure Mississippi consumers know whether or not they are buying real meat.”