GFI goes to court for First Amendment

Earlier this year, the Missouri governor signed an omnibus bill that contained language prohibiting “misrepresenting” any product as “meat” that does not come from a slaughtered animal. We just went to court to stop it.
Lady justice with scale

The Good Food Institute, together with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, and plant-based meat powerhouse Tofurky, sued the state of Missouri to stop a law that would prohibit plant-based and clean meat companies from labeling their products accurately and in ways that consumers can understand.

Earlier this year, the Missouri governor signed an omnibus bill that contained language prohibiting “misrepresenting” as “meat” any product that does not come from a slaughtered animal. This law is scheduled to take effect on August 28.

Like similar moves to censor plant-based milk labels, this law has nothing to do with consumer protection. Indeed, the Missouri consumer protection agency has no evidence that consumers are confused by the labels of plant-based products. No one buys Tofurky “PLANT-BASED” deli slices thinking they were carved from a slaughtered animal any more than people are buying almond milk thinking it was squeezed from a cow’s udder.

Rather, the Missouri law’s explicit aim is to protect current meat producers from competition from plant-based and clean meat companies: “We’re just trying to protect our product.”

Our lawsuit documents that the law infringes on the First Amendment, preventing the clear and accurate labeling of plant-based and clean meat products and denying fair and honest competition in the marketplace.

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

The lawsuit also documents how the Missouri law violates the Dormant Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state companies to protect in-state meat producers, and infringes on the Due Process Clause because the vague language makes it difficult for companies to know what is and is not legal.

These efforts at protectionism are ultimately a dead end, noted GFI’s Executive Director Bruce Friedrich, “Americans don’t like censorship, and they don’t like the government picking winners and losers in the marketplace. We’re confident that the Court will overturn this anti-competitive and unconstitutional law.”

The federal complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri on August 27, 2018. It asks the court to recognize that Mo. Rev. Stat. § 265.494(7), as amended by 2018 Senate Bills 627 & 925, is unconstitutional and prohibit the state from enforcing it. You can find the complaint online.