Tofurky wins another lawsuit against unconstitutional bans on vegan ‘meat’

Tofurki is a food that may be best known as, say, the meatless entree that your cousin’s vegan boyfriend insists on eating at the Thanksgiving table, which might upset your cousin’s carnivorous father – the one who killed, gutted, boiled, plucked, brined, seasoned, stuffed, and roasted the actual turkey on the table.

One thing Tofurky and similar meat substitutes aren’t known for? Kick in the ass. But that can change.

Last month, a federal court ruled that an Arkansas law prohibiting makers of meat substitutes such as Tofurky from using commonly understood words to describe their products was unconstitutional.

“The law prohibited the labeling of any food product as ‘meat’ unless that food product was derived from livestock, and it banned terms such as ‘veggie sausage’ and ‘veggie burger’ on food labeling. in Arkansas,” said the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported following the court’s decision. The same court had in 2019 granted Tofurky a injunction preventing the state from enforcing the law soon after it came into effect and the complaint was filed.

Arkansas Law, U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker Explain in its decision, unconstitutionally prohibited Tofurky from “transmitting[ing] meaningful and useful information to consumers about the products they buy, and Tofurky’s repeated indications that the food products in these packages do not contain meat of animal origin dispel consumer confusion. »

The Arkansas suit is one of many deposit by Tofurky and others – including other vegan food producers and the American Civil Liberties Union, Good Food Institute, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Plant-Based Foods Association and Institute for Justice – against several states that have enacted laws similar to that of Arkansas.

Last year another court case— this one filed by Upton’s natives— forced the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, which passed rules similar to Arkansas at the behest of the state’s powerful beef lobby, to go back and change those rules.

“Under the new regulations, which officially came into effect today, foods of plant origin will not be considered to be labeled as ‘meat’ or ‘meat food’ if their label also describes the food as follows: “meatless”, “meatless”, “plant-based”, “vegetarian”, “vegan”, or uses any other comparable term”, the Plant-Based Foods Association, which was also a plaintiff in the case, reported Last year.

Also last year, Tofurky disputed a similar Oklahoma law. And earlier this year, a Louisiana federal judge reversed the ban on not saying meat-meat-alternative from this state.

Why the sudden clamor to adopt rules banning the use of certain words to describe meat substitutes? Proponents of these laws generally claim that they want to help consumers avoid confusion. But this argument is all hat and no cattle. Such laws sow confusion rather than attenuate it. Research and common sense suggest that consumers aren’t confused by terms like “veggie burger” or the like. Worse, language bans in general to forbid accurate and honest labeling even if, as the Arkansas federal court found, this was the case with Tofurky’s labeling, “the product [in question] also states on the label that it is 100% vegan, plant-based or meat-free”, Bloomberg News reported in 2019.

Ultimately, the basis for such laws can be tied to simple, pure protectionism. Indeed, protectionist tendencies are strong, historically, among powerful producers of animal products, including meat and dairy products. For example, as I explained in my book Biting the hands that feed us: How fewer and smarter laws would make our food system more sustainable and elsewhere, rent-seeking dairy interests have, over generations, relied on lawmakers to force competitors to change the name and even the appearance of their foods. In Wisconsin, the state has long required margarine makers, who compete with dairy state butter makers, to color their products pink. In New York, the state forced manufacturers of non-dairy creamers to label these foods as “melloream“- whatever it is.

Notably, however, this type of protectionism is not entirely limited to attacks by the meat industry on vegan competitors. As I explained in a 2019 columnArkansas sought to protect its dominant rice industry from competition from rice-cauliflower makers (a law I called a “veg-on-veg crime” at the time).

The most important fact to remember about these laws is that they seek to undermine the First Amendment to support the sales of certain elements of the food industry. It is as unconstitutional as it is reckless. Such laws do not serve the interests of consumers. After all, neither your hypothetical cousin’s boyfriend nor your uncle were the least bit confused by the differences between Tofurky and turkey. Indeed, it was these differences that made them choose these respective favorite foods in the first place.