ARKANSAS — The Good Food Institute, Animal Legal Defense Fund, and The American Civil Liberties Union have secured a court order that finds an Arkansas food label censorship law unconstitutional and permanently blocks enforcement of the law against Tofurky for its use of terms like “sausage” and “burger” when accompanied by terms like “vegan” or “plant-based.” The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found that the challenged provisions of the Arkansas law unconstitutionally limited Tofurky’s commercial free speech rights. It further found one provision of the law to be unconstitutionally vague on its face and prohibited its enforcement statewide, ensuring that it cannot be used to prosecute other plant-based food companies. 

In her order, Judge Kristine G. Baker found: 

  • As written, the Arkansas law prohibited Tofurky from using words “to convey 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.” 
  • “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.” 
  • “The State has not come forward with any evidence of broad marketplace confusion around plant-based meat alternatives to bolster its claim.” 

The lawsuit was filed by Animal Legal Defense Fund, GFI, and ACLU on behalf of Tofurky and challenged an Arkansas law that would have made it illegal for companies to use words like “burger,” “roast,” and “sausage” to describe products that are not made from animals, such as veggie burgers. The law would have imposed fines of up to $1,000 for every plant-based and cultivated meat product — meat derived from cultivating animal cells, rather than slaughtering animals — marketed or packaged with a “meat” label. The labels would be subject to fines within state borders even if followed by modifiers such as “vegan,” “veggie,” or “plant-based.” 

The lawsuit, filed on July 22, 2019, argues the Arkansas law violates the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause by censoring Tofurky’s truthful claims on product labels and creating confusion among consumers to protect the meat producers in the state. The lawsuit adds that there is no evidence that current labels have misled consumers in any way, pointing out that Tofurky’s products all clearly say the products are plant based, meatless, vegetarian, or vegan. In fact, studies show removing “meat” terminology from plant-based meat product labels would cause consumer confusion where none existed before. The law’s proponents have admitted that the law’s purpose is to protect the agricultural producers in the state.

The Arkansas law is substantially similar to meat-labeling censorship laws passed in Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and other states. A number of those laws face similar legal challenges, including by the GFI, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and ACLU. The Louisiana law’s sponsor, for instance, admitted that he designed the law to protect certain Louisiana agricultural producers from growing competition with plant-based and cultivated meat products. Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana halted the enforcement of the label censorship law, ruling it unconstitutional after a First Amendment challenge from Tofurky. When discussing the perceived need for the Mississippi law, state representative Jeff Knight publicly admitted, “We’re just trying to protect our product.” Animal agriculture industry representatives warned producers that competition from plant-based and cultivated meat products is one of the “major challenges” the animal meat industry faces.

Jaime Athos, Tofurky CEO and President: “The court ruling in Arkansas affirms what we have been saying all along – consumers are buying plant-based products, like Tofurky, knowingly and intentionally, not because they are confused,” said Athos. “Consumers choose plant-based because of their values, nutritional or taste preferences and concerns about the impacts of animal agriculture on the environment. The passage of this law was never about helping consumers, it was a naked attempt by the state legislature to interfere in the marketplace and limit competition against animal agriculture interests. Thankfully, the court in Arkansas has seen through this ruse, just like a recent Louisiana court judgment, on a comparable law. We look forward to future court victories in other states, and while that is gratifying on some level it is also frustrating. We would much rather legislatures spend time working to benefit constituents, so that we could spend more time making good food for our customers.”

Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director: “The industrial animal agriculture industry goes to great lengths to deter and disadvantage innovative food producers that demonstrate an evolution of our food system is not only possible — it’s profitable,” says  Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “This should be yet another wake up call for legislators to stop putting animal agriculture’s corporate interests in front of constituents’ constitutional rights and the public’s interests in protecting animals and the environment.”

Madeline Cohen, The Good Food Institute Regulatory Attorney: “This order is a win for consumers, who do not need government interference from the use of well-understood terms to describe plant-based products. U.S. food laws have long required that food producers label their products truthfully, and unnecessary and damaging laws like Arkansas’ that attempt to micromanage commercial free speech are regrettable. The Court agrees that Arkansas consumers can clearly tell the difference between a veggie burger and a beef burger when the product label plainly indicates this. Laws like this patronize and insult the intelligence of Arkansas consumers and should be struck down given what’s at stake: a more sustainable food system that works for everyone — farmers, food companies, consumers, and entire communities.”

Press contacts

Mike Heymsfield, Animal Legal Defense Fund, mheymsfield@aldf.org

Maia Keerie, The Good Food Institute, maiak@gfi.org

McKenzie Jester, Tofurky, mckenzie@rkpr.net

About the Animal Legal Defense Fund  

Forty years of fighting for animals: The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit www.aldf.org

About the Good Food Institute 

The Good Food Institute is a nonprofit think tank working to make the global food system better for the planet, people, and animals. Alongside scientists, businesses, and policymakers, GFI’s teams focus on making plant-based and cultivated meat delicious, affordable, and accessible. Powered by philanthropy, GFI is an international network of organizations advancing alternative proteins as an essential solution needed to meet the world’s climate, global health, food security, and biodiversity goals. To learn more, please visit www.gfi.org.

About Tofurky 

Founded in 1980, Tofurky is the leading independent plant-based protein producer in the nation, making lip-smacking plant-based foods that are kind to people, animals and the environment. All Tofurky’s foods are made with the highest quality ingredients and are indulgent ways for everyone from vegans to flexitarians to enjoy their favorite comfort foods. All Tofurky products are 100 percent non-GMO, vegan and use local and organic ingredients whenever possible. As a Certified Benefit Corporation, Tofurky puts purpose before profits and reinvests in a wide variety of environmental initiatives, advocates for animal welfare and invests in its community. For more information, visit www.tofurky.com, ‘like’ us on Facebook, or follow us on Instagram and Twitter

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