Mississippi makes it a jailable offense to call plant-based or cultured-meat patties "burgers"

FDA (totally not in thrall to Big Dairy): we're going to ban calling almond milk "milk"; Missouri State legislature (totally not in thrall to Big Ag): hold my beer.

Also prohibited: "veggie hot dog"; "tofu dog." The fact that beef-based hot dogs are not made from dogs is not a problem, apparently.

The law would also prohibit the use of "burger" or "dog" in relation to vat-grown, cell-based food, which is made of meat. The statute reserves these appelations for foodstuffs derived from "slaughtered livestock."

The bill, which passed in January and goes into effect now, was celebrated by thoroughly disinterested party Mike McCormick, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation: "This bill will protect our cattle farmers from having to compete with products not harvested from an animal."

The bill has been challenged by the Good Food Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union along with other parties, who argue that it places restrictions on speech that are unconstitutional thanks to the First Amendment. The parties had been in settlement talks, but these have broken down, so litigation is now resuming.

In 1980, the Court supplied the rules for First Amendment protections on commercial speech that are still applied today. Those rules are called the “Central Hudson” test, because they were laid out in Central Hudson Gas & Electric Company v. Public Service Commission of New York.

Here are the rules: First, commercial speech “must concern lawful activity and not be misleading.” Supporters of Mississippi’s law might argue that the term “plant-based burger” is misleading, while opponents argue that consumers know perfectly well what a veggie burger is.

“There’s nothing misleading about the name of a veggie burger, or vegan hot dog, or seitan bacon,” Almy, a lawyer on the Missouri case, told me. “The packages clearly disclose that this is plant-based food that has the taste or texture of this familiar food.”

Even if the speech concerns lawful activity and is not misleading, the government can still regulate it. But it has to meet the following standards: The government must have a “substantial interest” at stake, the regulation must “directly and materially advance the government’s substantial interest,” and “the regulation must be narrowly tailored.”

Mississippi is forbidding grocery stores from calling veggie burgers "veggie burgers" [Kelsey Piper/Vox]

(Image: John Haslam , CC-BY)