LITTLE ROCK, ARK. — A federal court blocked the state of Arkansas from enforcing its meat labeling law against The Tofurky Co. The law makes it illegal for plant-based meat companies to use “meat” or other meat-derived terms like “burger” or “sausage” to describe their products. The law includes products with modifiers such as “plant-based,” “vegan” or “veggie.” Violations could carry fines as high as $1,000 per label.
The American Civil Liberties challenged the Arkansas law on behalf of The Tofurky Co., along with the Good Food Institute and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. They argued the law violates the First Amendment by censoring free commercial speech.
The state argued the law protects consumers from deceptive marketing and prevents confusion about whether plant-based meat alternatives contain animal products.
“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,” wrote Kristine G. Baker, United States District Judge, in a preliminary injunction order. “That assumption is unwarranted.”
The injunction also states there is no evidence any consumer or potential consumer was misled or deceived by Tofurky’s packaging, labeling or marketing.
The court block will remain in effect while the underlying challenge proceeds.
“Plant-based foods are increasingly popular with savvy consumers who understand the health and environmental consequences of their actions and it brings us no small joy that these individuals will be able to set their everyday and holiday tables with the products of their choice,” said Jaime Athos, chief executive officer of Tofurky. “While they do, we will fight the law in court.”
Similar laws have been passed in Missouri, Louisiana and several other states. Most are being challenged in court.
A similar law in Mississippi was challenged earlier this year. The case resulted in the state’s department of agriculture proposing a new set of labeling guidelines that would allow plant-based meat companies to use “meat” and other meat-derived terms so long as they are accompanied by a clear, prominently displayed qualifier. The proposed meat alternative labeling standards are similar to voluntary guidelines released by the Plant Based Food Institute.
While the injunction allows Tofurky to continue selling plant-based meat products in Arkansas, the battle over food identity standards is picking up steam at the federal level.
U.S. Senator Deb Fischer, a republican from Nebraska, introduced the Real Meat Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully Act 2019, also known as the Real MEAT Act, to the senate this week. The bill is a companion to a House of Representatives measure introduced in October.
The bill would require all plant-based meat products to be labeled as “imitation.”
“The Real MEAT Act will protect consumers from deceptive marketing practices and bring transparency to the grocery store,” Ms. Fischer said.
Jennifer Houston, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said the law would allow cattle producers to compete on a level playfield.
“It’s clear that fake-meat companies are continuing to mislead consumers about the nutritional merits and actual ingredient composition of their products,” she said.