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A new Mississippi law went into effect July 1 that bans using terms associated with meat for non-meat products. Think “veggie burger” or “vegan hot dog.” A lawsuit quickly followed, on the heels of a similar lawsuit in Missouri.

Louisiana lawmakers recently passed a similar "truth in labeling" law. While it doesn’t go into effect until next year, an attorney for the activist foundation that brought the Mississippi lawsuit expects Louisiana’s law, and others like it, to face similar scrutiny in the courts.

“If I had to bet, I would bet that this wouldn’t be the last lawsuit,” said Justin Pearson with the conservative Institute for Justice.

Every state already has laws that ban deceptive labeling, he said, arguing the Mississippi law is mostly about confusing consumers to protect the meat industry.

Using terms associated with meat helps the buyer understand the nature of the product, he contends. A "veggie burger" is meant to be an alternative to a beef burger, for example.

“When you take away the words that consumers understand best, you create confusion,” Pearson said. “People understand that foods labeled as meatless do not contain meat.”

Louisiana’s “truth in labeling” bill was pushed by the state’s agriculture industry, lawmakers said. The Center Square unsuccessfully reached out to the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, which represents the industry, for comment.

Louisiana’s law applies to a full range of agriculture products, not just meat. It is also more specific, explains Veronica Mosgrove with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

For example, the Louisiana law is specific on what is meat and what is not, she said.  It describes meat as a portion of beef, pork, poultry, alligator, farm raised deer, turtle, domestic rabbit, crawfish or shrimp carcass that is edible by humans.  It does not include synthetic products derived from a plant, insect or a cell culture grown in a lab.

Asked if Mike Strain, the elected commissioner of LDAF, was concerned about lawsuits, Mosgrove relayed that any law can be challenged in court and “it’s part of the process.”

The Center Square reached out to state Rep. John Stefanski, the Crowley Republican who carried the bill in the House of Representatives. He did not respond in time for publication.

During the session, Stefanski used the example of “cauliflower rice,” which, as the name suggests, is a cauliflower-based rice alternative.

Louisiana’s rice growers have established a well-respected brand for their product through expensive marketing campaigns over the years. Other products should not be allowed to piggyback on that effort, he said.

While critics of the “truth in labeling” effort worried Louisiana consumers might not be able to get the vegetable-based products they wanted, Mosgrove said she is already seeing the marketplace adjust. A company that makes “cauliflower rice” is already using “riced cauliflower” or “riced veggies” instead, she said.

Louisiana lawmakers also passed a similar bill focused on milk, meant to ensure products derived from soy or almonds are not identified as “milk.” That measure is tied to federal action, however.

Federal regulations have a longstanding prohibition against labeling anything that didn’t come from a cow as milk, but haven’t enforced it, Person said. At the urging of the dairy industry, they are reconsidering the issue but have not yet announced a decision, he said.

Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.