• 66°

Please pass the meatless meatballs

Vegan bacon, vegan burgers, meatless meatballs, even meatless steaks — the world of non-meat “meat” is vast.

Vegetarian-based food products, as well as those that are insect-based, can’t be labeled as “meat” or “meat-based” here in Mississippi.  A new law also states that food products containing cultured animal tissues (test tube steaks) can’t be labeled as “meat” either.

Rep. Vince Mangold of Brookhaven authored a similar piece of legislation, seeking to ban “fake meat.”

“I don’t know about you, but I like to know what I’m eating,” Mangold, a farmer, said. Mangold said the proper labeling of meat is no different than a law that requires restaurants to label the country of origin of catfish.

Others disagree. A federal lawsuit claims Mississippi is violating free-speech rights by not allowing terms such as “meatless meatballs” and “vegan bacon.”

“The ban serves only to create consumer confusion where none previously existed,” says the lawsuit, which is backed by Institute for Justice, a free-market advocacy group based in Virginia, The Associated Press reported.

Producers of beef, poultry and pork obviously do not want any products labeled as “meat” that might compete with what they are selling. The dairy industry fought a similar battle when almond and soy “milk” starting hitting store shelves. The FDA is still trying to figure out if plant-based products can be labeled as “milk.”

Mississippi is not alone when it comes to bans against what it calls “fake meat.” The Good Food Institute says 12 states have enacted laws regarding the labeling of non-meat products.

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, AP reported.

“They tell me that fake steak looks just like our real meat,” Hudson told The Associated Press. He said if a consumer sees two similar products side by side, they could think they’re getting meat when they’re not.

“I don’t want to eat meat grown by a test tube in a laboratory,” Hudson said. “If my constituents do, they ought to know what they’re getting.”

But it’s doubtful that anyone shopping at their local grocery store is going to confuse a prime ribeye steak with something made from soybeans or crickets or whatever goes into meatless meat. And it’s doubtful that a package of “meatless meatballs” is going to confuse anyone who is seeking actual “meat” meatballs. The same goes for “vegan bacon.”

In what may be the same path “meatless” meat lawsuits take, a federal court blocked a lawsuit against a maker of “alternative” milks. “It is simply implausible that a reasonable consumer would mistake a product like soymilk or almond milk with dairy milk from a cow,” Judge Samuel Conti wrote. “The first words in the products’ names should be obvious enough to even the least discerning of consumers.”

The same could easily be said of “vegan bacon” and “meatless meatballs.”