Tofurky, ACLU, and trade groups sue Missouri for law controlling meat terminology

August 29, 2018

Tofurky sued Missouri to block law controlling the use of meat terminology on non-meat products. 

The Associated Press reports that Tofurky (Hood River, OR), a maker of plant-based meat alternatives, filed a lawsuit in Missouri on Monday challenging a law set to take effect on Tuesday that bars companies from misrepresenting products as meat if they are not harvested from livestock or poultry. The statute was introduced as part of an omnibus bill earlier in the year and carries a penalty of up a year of incarceration as well as a fine of as much as $1,000.  Tofurky is joined by the Missouri ACLU, The Good Food Institute, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The lawsuit argues that the law is vague and overbroad, making plant-based food and beverage alternatives legally vulnerable. Tofurky fears that if the law stands, it will be forced to change its packaging. To the plaintiffs, this is a first amendment issue, rejecting the concept that plant-based meat alternatives are in any way misleading to consumers who understand the differences that are further reinforced on product labels.

“The Statute does nothing to protect the public from potentially misleading information,” states the lawsuit. “As such, the Statute violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the Dormant Commerce Clause, and the Due Process Clause.”

“Missouri is putting its thumb on the scale to unfairly benefit the meat industry and silence alternative producers,” said Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund’s executive director in a statement. “This law violates various constitutional principles, including free speech-which should be a concern for everyone, regardless of diet.”

Supporters of the statute such as the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association argue that the statute does not pertain to companies like Tofurky, which clearly states on its labels that the product is plant-based, but to emerging so-called “clean meats” which are meats grown from cultured animal cells in labs. The plaintiffs dispute this, noting in their lawsuit that there are currently no clean meats sold in supermarkets or restaurants, and that the history, context, and language of the statute “intended the Statute to apply to plant-based meat and clean meat companies and to prohibit them from marketing their products as ‘meat’ analogues or using the term ‘meat’ or related meat terminology (e.g., ‘chicken,’ ‘beef,’ ‘sausage’) in the advertising, labeling, and packaging of their products.”

“Americans don’t like censorship, and they don’t like the government picking winners and losers in the marketplace,” said The Good Food Institute’s executive director Bruce Friedrich in a statement. “We’re confident that the Court will overturn this anti-competitive and unconstitutional law.”