Tofurky Wins Legal Battle for Free Speech

In October of 2020, a law went into effect in Louisiana that barred using words such as “burger” or “sausage” on plant-based products, even when paired with proper descriptors such as “meatless” or “vegan.” The law imposed a fine of up to $500 per day for plant-based companies using these marketing terms.

The law is a juvenile attempt by the animal agriculture industry to keep plant-based meats from competing with their sales. The animal agriculture industry is scared of plant-based companies, which enjoyed a 74 percent growth in sales over the last three years alone. This law is the equivalent of the bossy kid saying, “You can’t be Batman! I’m Batman!” It is the ultimate example of lawmakers passing laws that serve their interests.

A ROSE BY ANOTHER NAME

The Louisiana law implies that consumers are confused by labels like “plant-based burger” or “meatless sausage” when, in fact, the opposite is true. When labeled correctly, consumers are intelligent enough to see the difference between plant-based and meat-based products. This law was simply a ploy to make plant-based products sound less appealing than their meat-based counterparts by using “veggie tubes” instead of plant-based hot dogs or “veggie pucks” instead of plant-based burgers. The Representative who sponsored the law, Francis Thompson, admitted “he designed the law to protect the interests of certain Louisiana agricultural producers from the growing competition with plant-based and cultivated meat producers.” (via VegNews)

LOUISANA VS TOFURKY

With the help of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and The Good Food Institute (GFI), Tofurky filed a lawsuit on October 7, 2020, arguing that the Louisiana law infringed upon its First Amendment right to free speech. ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells commented, “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 align with their values.’

A VEGAN FRIENDLY VERDICT

In late March 2022, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ruled in Tofurky’s favor and halted enforcement of the law. Laura Braden, GFI’s Lead Regulatory Counsel, believes the court reached the right decision. “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.”

ALDF and GFI also assist plant-based companies affected by similar laws in other states. These organizations successfully partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union in 2019 to challenge a similar law in Arkansas. The federal district court, citing concerns related to free speech, blocked the Arkansas law.

“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,” says Jaime Athos, President, and CEO of Tofurky. “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.”

 

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