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Plant-Based Product Labels Are "Potentially Misleading," Judge Rules

A law that could potentially go into effect in Oklahoma mandates rules for plant-based meat labeling.

What's in a name, really? Quite a bit, according to a recent ruling by an Oklahoma judge, at least when that name involves words like bacon, burger, sausage, or any other items traditionally made from meat.

The case at issue was brought to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in September by plant-based meat company Upton's Naturals and the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA), two parties that were hoping to see the judge block a state law that is potentially discriminatory against plant-based products. The law in question requires that vegan meat products display the plant-based disclaimer on their packaging as largely and prominently as the brand's name. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.)

Upton's Naturals products already feature the word "vegan" on the front of all packaging. But Judge Stephen Friot didn't seem to find the labeling sufficient and disagreed with the company's claim that the law is a violation of the First Amendment. He refused to block the law by claiming the labeling of plant-based products is still confusing to the average customer.

"The court has no trouble finding that the speech at issue is potentially misleading . . . Product packaging which labels a product as 'Classic Burger,' bacon, chorizo, hot dog, jerky, meatballs, or steak, when the product is actually a plant-based product, is potentially misleading to a reasonable consumer," he wrote in his opinion, according to Food Dive.

Michele Simon, the executive director of PBFA hinted that plant-based companies will not bow down to the state's ruling. "It is highly likely that some PBFA members would withdraw their products from Oklahoma if the state's new law went into effect," she said.

Those behind the lawsuit plainly see the law as written intended to help the meat industry at the expense of the rapidly expanding plant-based imitation meat sector. An appeal has been filed with a U.S. district court.

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Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more