In Louisiana, the Tofurky Company and other plant-based meat manufacturers can name their goods as such without fear of legal ramifications. Because the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana granted a petition for summary judgment in Tofurky’s complaint, the state’s labeling law that attempted to ban the use of specific terminology for animal-derived meat products was blocked. The rule took effect on October 1, 2020, and it imposed a punishment of up to $500 per day for any marketing use of terminology like “burger” and “sausage” on plant-based meat products, even if suitable qualifiers like “vegan” or “meatless” were included.
Tofurky filed the complaint on October 7, 2020, with the help of the organizations Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and The Good Food Institute (GFI), to challenge the Louisiana statute, which it said infringed on its First Amendment rights by illegally limiting genuine commercial speech. The case intended to show that labels like “plant-based burger” and “meatless sausage” do not cause consumer misunderstanding, and that eliminating those descriptions would actually cause consumer confusion, not the other way around.
“Louisiana’s labeling law was a clear and unconstitutional attempt to protect the animal agriculture industry from competition amidst the growing market for foods not derived from slaughtered or confined animals, which don’t carry the same risks to human health, animals, and the environment… Under the First Amendment, companies are entitled to market and label their products in truthful ways that consumers will recognize and that aligns with their values,” stated ALDF Executive Director, Stephen Wells.
Representative Francis Thompson, who introduced the Louisiana bill, has subsequently confessed that it was meant to safeguard the interests of particular Louisiana agricultural farmers from increasing competition from plant-based and cultured meat (animal flesh made from cells) companies. Proponents of the bill have proposed the terms “veggie tubes” and “veggie pucks” to characterize plant-based hot dogs and burgers in order to make them less enticing.
“The Court reached the right decision in finding that Louisiana’s law unconstitutionally restricts speech… Louisiana consumers deserve better than being patronized by lawmakers who want to control what they buy. Consumers are not confusing veggie burgers for beef burgers when labels clearly indicate the products are plant-based, meatless, vegetarian, or vegan, and it insults their intelligence to suggest otherwise. Laws like this are regrettable 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,” stated GFI Lead Regulatory Counsel, Laura Braden.
Tofurky’s Victory On Labeling
Currently, comparable restrictions exist in a handful of states, and Tofurky, together with ALDF and GFI, is fighting to protect the First Amendment free speech rights of enterprises that make plant-based meat products. In late 2019, these groups, together with the American Civil Liberties Union, challenged a similar bill in Arkansas, which was rejected by a federal district judge, citing free speech issues as well.
Tofurky is celebrating its triumph in Louisiana as a victory for the plant-based business as a whole, which can continue to create and appropriately label goods that are not only in high demand, but also assist with the climate issue while being animal-friendly.
“The Louisiana court has seen right through the disingenuous pretext under which this law was passed, and rightfully intervened to protect the First Amendment rights of companies like Tofurky and the rights of Louisianans to have unfettered access to the healthier, more sustainable foods of their choosing… The law was an obvious attempt to give unfair advantage to animal agriculture interests by stifling the growth of plant-based food sales, and this ruling serves as a warning to other state legislatures who may forget that they are elected to serve the needs of their constituents, not those of corporate special interests,” said Jaime Athos, President and CEO of Tofurky and dairy-free sister brand, Moocho.
And sales of plant-based foods are surging. According to a GFI analysis issued this week, the plant-based food business generated $7.4 billion in revenue in 2021, with plant-based meat sales reaching $1.4 billion, up 74 percent in the previous three years.
“Consumers are not confused—they are actively and thoughtfully choosing plant-based burgers, hot dogs, sausages, and cheese because they’re better choices for the future of our planet… Our fight to overturn this unconstitutional labeling censorship law has been a long journey, but today marks a moment of progress and a meaningful stride in the right direction,” Athos said.
The dairy lobby has also attacked plant-based enterprises for using conventional “dairy” names, claiming customer confusion as a justification to prohibit dairy-free goods from using words like “milk” and “butter.” The dairy lobby’s efforts to curb corporate free speech have also ruffled feathers.
Miyoko’s Creamery, a vegan company, won a similar win in California last year. In a case over Miyoko’s use of terminology like “butter” and “dairy” on its vegan goods, the US District Court for the Northern District of California decided in favor of the vegan brand—and against the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA)—in August. Despite the company’s unambiguous labeling of the goods as “vegan” and “made with plants,” the CDFA asked that the company remove key terminology such as “dairy” and “butter” from its packaging, the ALDF filed the complaint on Miyoko’s Creamery’s behalf. The court’s decision upheld Miyoko’s Creamery’s First Amendment free speech rights by preventing it from utilizing these so-called dairy phrases.
Miyoko’s Creamery celebrated the win by starting a YouTube cooking channel dedicated to recipes with the brand’s dairy-free butter. In a statement, Miyoko’s Creamery Founder and CEO Miyoko Schinner said, “Using words such as ‘butter’ and ‘milk’ in the context of even products made from plants and not from animals is common parlance among consumers in the modern world… Food is ever-evolving, and so too should language to reflect how people actually use speech to describe the foods they eat. We are extremely pleased by this ruling and believe that it will help set a precedent for the future of food.”
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