Good news – more lawsuits are rolling back unconstitutional labelling bans on using meat-based terms. Last month, a federal court ruled that an Arkansas law that had banned makers of meat alternatives such as Tofurky from using commonly understood words to describe their products was unconstitutional. The law prohibited the labeling of any food product as ‘meat’ unless that food product was derived from livestock, and it banned such terms as ‘veggie sausage’ and ‘veggie burger’ from food labeling in Arkansas.
The Arkansas law, U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker explained in her ruling, unconstitutionally barred Tofurky from “convey[ing] 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.” In other words, no one is confused about whether Tofurky is turkey!
We’ve seen the same kind of thing in other states and other products but the meat, dairy and egg alternatives seem to be prevailing. Last year, a lawsuit filed by Upton’s Naturals forced Mississippi’s agriculture department, which had issued similar rules, to backtrack and amend the rules.
Is the meat industry getting nervous? They should be. The sales of meat and dairy substitutes have been soaring, hence the clamor to adopt rules against using some words to describe meat alternatives. Supporters of such laws typically claim they want to help consumers avoid confusion. However, research and commonsense suggest consumers aren’t confused by terms such as “veggie burger” or the like. Worse, linguistic bans generally prohibit accurate and honest labeling even if—as the federal court in Arkansas found was the case with Tofurky’s labeling—”the product [in question] also states on the label that it’s 100% vegan, plant-based or meatless.”