The ACLU Sues Arkansas Bureau of Standards on Behalf of Tofurky Co.

Last week the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Arkansas Bureau of Standards on behalf of Oregon-based vegan food producer, Tofurky. 

Tofurky’s lawsuit claims that Arkansas’ ban on the use of the word “meat” in the labeling of its vegan products violates free speech. The stated goal of the new Arkansas law is to “require truth in labeling.” 

As written, the law prohibits labeling a plant-based product as meat, beef, or pork. It also bans any term “that has been used or defined historically in reference to a specific agricultural product.”  The law would fine companies up to $1,000 for each violation. It also bans companies from labeling other vegetables, such as cauliflower, as rice. Arkansas is the nation’s top producer of rice. 

Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos said that consumers have been “successfully navigating” plant-based products for years and that traditional meat producers are feeling threatened by the recent rise in demand for such foods.

Rice farmer and author of the law, Arkansas State Representative, David Hillman, claims companies that label products like cauliflower rice or veggie burgers are merely trying to confuse the consumers. Producers “realize the only way they can get people to try their product is to confuse them,” Hillman said.

The Good Food Institute Logo

The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes plant-based alternatives to meat, joined the ACLU and the Animal Legal Defense Fund in filing the suit on Tofurky’s behalf. Jessica Almy, the group policy director of the Good Food Institute, said the law’s true aim is to protect meat producers. The First Amendment protects the companies’ use of terms like “plant-based meat” or “veggie burger,” because it’s truthful labeling, Almy said. “Producers have every incentive to make that meaning clear to consumers, and there’s absolutely no evidence of consumer confusion,” she said. “So while these laws are being put forward as ‘truth in labeling’ laws, they’re really about censorship.”

In addition to Arkansas, The Good Food Institute has said eleven other states — Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming — have enacted what it calls “meat label censorship” laws.

In addition to this lawsuit, Tofurky also filed a lawsuit in 2018 against a Missouri law which makes it a misdemeanor to label plant-based products as meat. Also, recently, a lawsuit was filed by Illinois-based Upton’s Naturals Co. to challenge a similar Mississippi law. 

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