Battle between meat, meat-alternative companies over advertising continues in court

Washington D.C. Bureau

WASHINGTON D.C (NEXSTAR) — Meat producers have a beef with the vegan industry.

They want plant-based, meat-alternative companies to stop labeling their products with words normally used for meat.

States like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri have passed advertising bans to please the meat industry, but some vegan companies have cooked up lawsuits to fight back.

“What would you call a burger other than a burger? Do you call it a veggie puck? A veggie disk? Who’s gonna be able to find that when they go to the store?”

That’s the question at the root of a plant-based company’s lawsuit in Mississippi.

Upton’s Naturals filed suit the day a new state law took effect prohibiting the advertising of meat-alternative products with words like burgers, hot dogs or bacon.

“The First Amendment is about all the ways that we communicate usefully with one another and that includes commercial advertising, like labeling your products,” said Paul Sherman, an Institute for Justice Attorney.

Sherman is one of the attorneys on the case. He argues that requiring special packaging in states with plant-based labeling laws is just too expensive.

“Having to redesign their labels for every different market where they want to sell their product is just ridiculous.”

Andy Gipson, the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, defends the state law he lobbied for, calling the lawsuit’s claims inaccurate.

Gipson said in a statement, “Consumers who want to buy vegetarian or vegan products need to know without confusion that they are buying food products without meat. Likewise, those who want to buy real, farm-raised meat need to know what they are buying as well.”

Nielsen’s latest report shows vegan meat sales jumped about 14 percent in the last year, starting to cut a little into the $90 billion meat industry with its nearly $1 billion in revenue.

“It’s certainly clear that plant-based foods are a growing part of the market, but it’s just not legitimate for the government to censor people’s advertising in order to protect incumbent businesses from new competition,” said Sherman.

But with multiple states also trying to restrict vegan labels, that’s ultimately up to a federal court to decide.

Mississippi is holding off on enforcing the new law while this lawsuit makes it way through the court system. The Plant Based Foods Association, which represents 140 companies across the country, is also part of the lawsuit.

Another planted-based company, Tofurky, has ongoing lawsuits in Arkansas and Missouri.

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