HOOD RIVER, Ore.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Good Food Institute, Animal Legal Defense Fund, and The American Civil Liberties Union have secured a court order that finds an Arkansas food label censorship law unconstitutional and permanently blocks enforcement of the law against Tofurky for its use of terms like “sausage” and “burger” when accompanied by terms like “vegan” or “plant-based.” The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found that the challenged provisions of the Arkansas law unconstitutionally limited Tofurky’s commercial free speech rights. It further found one provision of the law to be unconstitutionally vague on its face and prohibited its enforcement statewide, ensuring that it cannot be used to prosecute other plant-based food companies.
In her order, Judge Kristine G. Baker found:
- As written, the Arkansas law prohibited Tofurky from using words "to convey meaningful, helpful information to consumers about the products they are purchasing, and Tofurky's repeated indications that the food products contained in these packages contain no animal-based meat dispel consumer confusion."
- "The State appears to believe that the simple use of the word 'burger,' 'ham,' or 'sausage' leaves the typical consumer confused, but such a position requires the assumption that a reasonable consumer will disregard all other words found on the label."
- "The State has not come forward with any evidence of broad marketplace confusion around plant-based meat alternatives to bolster its claim."
The lawsuit was filed by Animal Legal Defense Fund, GFI, and ACLU on behalf of Tofurky and challenged an Arkansas law that would have made it illegal for companies to use words like “burger,” “roast,” and “sausage” to describe products that are not made from animals, such as veggie burgers. The law would have imposed fines of up to $1,000 for every plant-based and cultivated meat product — meat derived from cultivating animal cells, rather than slaughtering animals — marketed or packaged with a “meat” label. The labels would be subject to fines within state borders even if followed by modifiers such as “vegan,” “veggie,” or “plant-based.”
The lawsuit, filed on July 22, 2019, argues the Arkansas law violates the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause by censoring Tofurky’s truthful claims on product labels and creating confusion among consumers to protect the meat producers in the state. The lawsuit adds that there is no evidence that current labels have misled consumers in any way, pointing out that Tofurky’s products all clearly say the products are plant based, meatless, vegetarian, or vegan. In fact, studies show removing “meat” terminology from plant-based meat product labels would cause consumer confusion where none existed before. The law’s proponents have admitted that the law’s purpose is to protect the agricultural producers in the state
The Arkansas law is substantially similar to meat-labeling censorship laws passed in Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and other states. A number of those laws face similar legal challenges, including by the GFI, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and ACLU. The Louisiana law’s sponsor, for instance, admitted that he designed the law to protect certain Louisiana agricultural producers from growing competition with plant-based and cultivated meat products. Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana halted the enforcement of the label censorship law, ruling it unconstitutional after a First Amendment challenge from Tofurky. When discussing the perceived need for the Mississippi law, state representative Jeff Knight publicly admitted, “We’re just trying to protect our product.” Animal agriculture industry representatives warned producers that competition from plant-based and cultivated meat products is one of the “major challenges” the animal meat industry faces.
Jaime Athos, Tofurky CEO and President: “The court ruling in Arkansas affirms what we have been saying all along – consumers are buying plant-based products, like Tofurky, knowingly and intentionally, not because they are confused,” said Athos. “Consumers choose plant-based because of their values, nutritional or taste preferences and concerns about the impacts of animal agriculture on the environment. The passage of this law was never about helping consumers, it was a naked attempt by the state legislature to interfere in the marketplace and limit competition against animal agriculture interests. Thankfully, the court in Arkansas has seen through this ruse, just like a recent Louisiana court judgment, on a comparable law. We look forward to future court victories in other states, and while that is gratifying on some level it is also frustrating. We would much rather legislatures spend time working to benefit constituents, so that we could spend more time making good food for our customers.”
Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director: “The industrial animal agriculture industry goes to great lengths to deter and disadvantage innovative food producers that demonstrate an evolution of our food system is not only possible — it’s profitable,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “This should be yet another wake up call for legislators to stop putting animal agriculture’s corporate interests in front of constituents’ constitutional rights and the public’s interests in protecting animals and the environment.”
Madeline Cohen, The Good Food Institute Regulatory Attorney: “This order is a win for consumers, who do not need government interference from the use of well-understood terms to describe plant-based products. U.S. food laws have long required that food producers label their products truthfully, and unnecessary and damaging laws like Arkansas’ that attempt to micromanage commercial free speech are regrettable. The Court agrees that Arkansas consumers can clearly tell the difference between a veggie burger and a beef burger when the product label plainly indicates this. Laws like this patronize and insult the intelligence of Arkansas consumers and should be struck down given what’s at stake: a more sustainable food system that works for everyone—farmers, food companies, consumers, and entire communities.”