But newly proposed federal legislation seeks to slap the word "imitation" on the label.

By Mike Pomranz
November 08, 2019

How often has this happened to you: You get home from the grocery store, fire up the grill, and then realize—dang it—you bought plant-based hamburgers instead of regular beef patties? Probably not often, but that was one of the concerns behind an initiative in Mississippi (and similar moves in other states) to bar plant-based meat companies from using butcher-like terms to label their products. Eventually, the state legislature came around to the idea that making it illegal to use "meaty" terms on plant-based foods wasn't the greatest idea. This week, Mississippi's revised labeling rules—which allow meaty terms as long as they are accompanied by qualifiers like "meat-free," "meatless," "plant-based," "vegetarian," "vegan" or similar terms—officially went into effect, and as a result, Upton's Naturals and the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) have officially dropped their lawsuit against the state.

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"This is a total victory," Justin Pearson, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice (IJ) and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in the announcement. "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." As IJ points out, Mississippi already had laws against misleading labels, so Mississippi's new rules—which had taken effect one July 1—specifically discriminated against plant-based meat, allegedly at the behest of the Mississippi Cattlemen's Association.

"We are thrilled with this common-sense outcome of our lawsuit," added Michele Simon, the 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." Recently, we've seen similar fights and lawsuits in states like Arkansas and Missouri.

But it turns out the next fight could happen on a federal level: Last week, Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a New York Democrat, and Rep. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, proposed a piece of bipartisan legislation—the Real Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully (MEAT) Act—which states that "any imitation meat food product, beef, or beef product shall be deemed to be misbranded unless its label bears, in type of uniform size and prominence, the word 'imitation' immediately before or after the name of the food and a statement that clearly indicates the product is not derived from or does not contain meat."

Whether the bill will garner enough support to become law is still unclear, and for now, as the site Food Dive suggests, "setting regulatory definitions for beef is likely not an agenda priority for either political party right now as they remain embroiled in other national issues."

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