A new Mississippi law which criminalises calling meat-free foodstuffs “burger” or “sausage” has prompted a lawsuit from plant-based meat producers, an NGO, and free-market advocacy groups.

Since Monday, labelling plant-based products as “vegan burgers” and “vegetarian hot dogs” constitutes “misrepresentation” and could incur jail time.

The law’s advocates argue phrases like “veggie burger” or “vegan sausage” deceive the public and force livestock farmers to compete with products not harvested from animals.

But critics say this is an unreasonable backlash against the fast-growing alternative protein sector—and blame the meat lobby and politicians for exacerbating ranchers’ and farmers’ fears.

Filed against Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and agriculture commissioner Andy Gipson, the lawsuit argues the ban “create[s] consumer confusion where none previously existed”—and is redundant, given federal laws already prohibit consumer deception.

The bill has deeper implications.

When Missouri passed a similar law in 2018, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Good Food Institute decried such “overbroad and vague” linguistic restrictions, deeming them free speech violations.

This week’s lawsuit concurs: Mississippi’s bill stops alternative-protein producers from communicating clearly with customers and “competing fair and square in the marketplace.”

Should non-animal-derived products be described using traditional terms like “sausage”?