In recent months, a growing discussion has emerged in the United States surrounding the enforcement of alternative meat censorship laws. These laws, designed to regulate the labeling of plant-based and cultivated meat products, have faced legal challenges from advocacy groups and plant-based food companies, with Tofurky, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), and the Good Food Institute (GFI) taking the lead in opposing them.
In Texas, the governor signed a labeling law for plant-based and cultivated meat in May. This law, which went into effect on September 1, 2023, mandates that products resembling traditional animal-derived items are prominently labeled with their nature as plant-based or lab-grown.
Tofurky, represented by ALDF and GFI, has filed a legal challenge against this law, arguing that its requirements are vague and could result in substantial redesign expenses for plant-based food producers.
Are consumers really confused?
Madeline Cohen, senior regulatory attorney for The Good Food Institute, said, “Texas consumers are not confused about the foods they purchase, and this law does absolutely nothing to protect them. Instead, the law’s unconstitutional imposition of arbitrary and burdensome labeling requirements on certain producers is more likely to restrict consumer choice by stifling innovation, the free market, and freedom of speech.”
Similar laws around alt-meat labeling have also been challenged in other states. In 2020, Tofurky, ALDF, and GFI initiated a lawsuit in Louisiana when they contended that the law prevented Tofurky from marketing its products due to labels like “plant-based burgers” and “plant-based ham style roast.” The US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Louisiana law prohibiting meat terminology on non-animal-derived food, but only when a producer intentionally tries to deceive consumers.
Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas have also witnessed similar lawsuits, with Arkansas enacting a law prohibiting companies from using phrases like “veggie sausage” or “turkey-style deli slices.” However, following a successful lawsuit by ALDF, GFI, and Tofurky, a federal judge ruled the law unconstitutional.
These developments echo international concerns. France has proposed banning meat-related terms for plant-based products despite arguments that consumers better understand them when they include familiar meat terminology. South Africa’s DALRRD attempted to restrict such terms on plant-based product labels, ordering the removal of JUST Egg products from stores. In the UK, an ad hoc group proposed banning phrases like “mylk” and “alternative to” for non-dairy products.
Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos concludes, “I have faith that the courts will see that what Texas has passed is just another in a series of unconstitutional, protectionist state laws, and do the right and fair thing by overturning it.”