In promising news for the plant-based food movement, a federal judge has struck down Arkansas’ so-called “Truth in Labeling” bill, which prohibits using the word “meat” on the package of any food not derived from animal flesh.
With support from the American Civil Liberties Union, The Good Food Institute, Animal Legal Defense Fund, and ACLU of Arkansas, the Tofurky Company sued the state of Arkansas over the bill’s constitutionality.
Passed this March, HB 1407 prevents companies that sell plant-based meat products from using “meat” and other meat-related terminology on their packaging, even if the product is clearly described as vegan or vegetarian. This includes words such as “sausage” and “burger.”
Companies that fail to comply face up to $1,000 in fines for each term’s usage, forcing them to either change their labels and include confusing and vague descriptors, pay the fines indefinitely, or stop selling in the state entirely.
Attacks on plant-based food labels are nothing new. In 2014, Unilever sued a vegan mayonnaise company for the “misleading” use of the word “mayo” because the product did not contain eggs. After significant backlash, they dropped the lawsuit two months later.
Supporters of the Arkansas law say it will prevent companies from falsely advertising to consumers and no longer allow for misleading labels. In reality, the law’s primary purpose seems to be the protection of the meat and dairy industries. It limits plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy, stunts marketplace competition, and hinders free speech.
Unfortunately, the judge’s recent ruling is not a permanent fix. It only allows Tofurky to continue selling its products without being penalized until the lawsuit is resolved. Other companies must still adhere to this new and limiting law, but there is reason to be optimistic.
“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 Judge Kristine Baker, who presided over the case. She concluded, “As a result, Tofurky is likely to prevail on its arguments that its labeling is neither unlawful nor inherently misleading and that Tofurky’s commercial speech warrants First Amendment protection.”
“We are pleased that the court blocked this unconstitutional law from being enforced while our underlying lawsuit proceeds, so that consumers can continue to have access to familiar plant-based products in Arkansas for the foreseeable future,” said Tofurkey’s CEO Jamie Athos. He continued, “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. While they do, we will fight the law in court.”