Veggie ‘Meat’ Maker Tofurky Wins Free Speech Challenge to Food-Labeling Law

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A win for free speech and Tofurky. Vegetarian food companies can legally use terms like sausage and burgers in their marketing, per a new federal court ruling.

The decision stems from a lawsuit brought by the plant-based “meat” makers at The Tofurky Company. Tofurky challenged a Louisiana law (called the Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act) banning the use of the terms like meat and sausage in vegetarian product marketing, with no exceptions for products that qualified their use of these words with terms like plant-based, vegan, or vegetarian. The law—which took effect in October 2020—said those in violation could face fines of up to $500 per use of the term per day.

As plant-based alternatives to animal products—including meat, milk, and mayonnaise—have gained in popularity, there’s been a growing push (often driven by the likes of dairy farmers and other animal-product producers) to control what companies can call these alternative products. Proponents of laws like the one in Louisiana argue that categorizing vegetarian and vegan products by names once reserved for animal products is deceptive and consumers will be confused.

It’s a weird argument, since these products are not only not trying to pass themselves off as actual beef, dairy, etc., but are specifically marketed as alternatives to animal-derived foods. Their labels tend to prominently declare that they are plant-based, meatless, vegetarian, or vegan. For instance, Tofurky brats, kielbasa, and other encased “meats” say on the label that they are “plant-based” sausage.

In its lawsuit against Louisiana, Tofurky—represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the Good Food Institute (GFI)—sought to halt enforcement of the labeling law, saying it violated its First Amendment rights.

“Under the First Amendment, companies are entitled to market and label their products in truthful ways that consumers will recognize and that aligns with their values,” said ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells in a statement.

Now, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana has sided with the ALDF and the faux-meat company, finding that Louisiana’s law unconstitutionally restricts Tofurky’s speech.

“The Louisiana court has seen right through the disingenuous pretext under which this law was passed, and rightfully intervened to protect the first amendment rights of companies like Tofurky,” said Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos in response. “The law was an obvious attempt to give unfair advantage to animal agriculture interests by stifling the growth of plant-based food sales, and this ruling serves as a warning to other state legislatures who may forget that they are elected to serve the needs of their constituents, not those of corporate special interests.”

Laws similar to Louisiana’s Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act have been passed in other states, including Arkansas, Missouri, and Mississippi. Tofurky, the ALDF, the GFI, and the American Civil Liberties Union successfully halted the Arkansas law in 2020.

Last year, a federal court sided with Miyoko’s Creamery in a suit concerning the vegan product brand’s use of the term vegan butter.

And in 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit dismissed a class-action lawsuit challenging almond milk maker Blue Diamond Growers’ use of the term milk.

These rulings should make other states think twice before trying to impose their own vegetarian food-labeling censorship schemes.


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