Louisiana’s ‘unconstitutional’ law restricting ‘meaty’ terms on plant-based products has a ‘chilling’ effect on commercial speech, judge says


of Louisiana’Truth in Food Labeling Act 273– which went live in October 2020 – takes a broad look at everything from edible insects and cauliflower ‘rice’ to cell-grown meat (which isn’t out yet). market), and effectively prohibits companies from using meaty terms on products even when accompanied by clear modifiers such as “vegan” or “plant-based”, unless they are derived from the carcass of a slaughtered animal.

The Good Food Institute and The Animal Legal Defense Fund — representing plant-based brand Tofurky, a plaintiff in several lawsuits* challenging these state laws — say Law 273 violates the First Amendment by improperly censoring truthful commercial speech .

Judge: the law “unacceptably restricts commercial speech”

In his March 28 decision, Judge Brian A Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Intermediate District of Louisiana agreed with this assessment, arguing that the law is “unconstitutional” and “unacceptably restricts commercial speech because the speech at issue is not misleading.”

According to Jackson’s decision: “In response to the law, the plaintiff ​[ie. Tofurky] refrained from using certain words and images on marketing materials and packages and removed the videos from its website and social media…”

Just because Tofurky hadn’t (yet) been fined for breaking the law didn’t mean it wasn’t very problematic, he added: “Applicant [ie. Tofurky’s] speech was chilled by law.

Meanwhile, he said, as Tofurky presented “convincing evidence that consumers are not confused by its labeling,“the state “does not produce evidence indicating that consumers are confusedby Tofurky’s labels, which use terms like chicken, burgers, bacon, ham, and sausages with modifiers like “vegan,” “vegetarian,” or “plant-based.”

ALDF: Bill 273 is a ‘clear and unconstitutional attempt to shield livestock industry from competition’

Tofurky uses the term “plant-based” prominently on all of its products. Image credit: Tofurky

Laura Braden, senior regulatory adviser at the nonprofit The Good Food Institute, which promotes plant-based, fermented and cell-cultured meat, said: Consumers don’t confuse veggie burgers with beef burgers when labels clearly state the products are plant-based, meatless, vegetarian, or vegan, and it insults their intelligence to suggest otherwise.

Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director Stephen Wells said the law was “a clear and unconstitutional attempt to protect the animal agriculture industry from competition in the growing market for foods not derived from slaughtered or confined animals, which do not carry the same risks to human health, animals and ‘environment.”

Tofurky CEO: Ruling on “a win for the entire plant industry”

Describing the decision as “a victory for the entire plant sector“,Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos added: “The law was a clear attempt to give animal agriculture interests an unfair advantage by stifling the growth of plant-based food sales, and this decision serves as a warning to other state legislatures that may forget that they are elected to meet the needs of their constituents, not those of particular corporate interests.

Since consumers buy plant-based meat products – which are often sold at a high price – precisely because they are do notDerived from animals, brands have little incentive to conceal their true nature, notes Athos.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA in a recent interview, he added: “For many of us growing up on an animal-centric diet, meat products are the best reference points for consumers, but we never intended to mislead consumers. Our value proposition is becauseWe are plant-based, which is why consumers buy our products.

“Why should consumers navigate a confusing new nomenclature that we all have to invent?”

The legal battle over ‘meaty’ terms

The scope of meat and dairy labeling bills that have been introduced in several states in recent years varies, with some attempting to ban the use of terms such as “meat” and “milk.” on plant-based products, even if they use qualifiers such as “dairy-free” or “plant-based”; and others extending this prohibition to terms such as “hamburgers”.

Some, like Oklahoma’s Meat Consumer Protection Act, allow the terms “meaty,” but then attempt to regulate the size and prominence of qualifiers such as “vegan” or “plant-based” on food labels.

The plant industry has had mixed success challenging these laws, which proponents say are key to avoiding consumer confusion, and opponents say it is a “solution in search of a problem”, but there have been some notable wins for the plant lobby. over the past two years with judges challenging the idea that buyers are being misled. Learn more HERE

The FDA says it’s schedule the release of draft guidelineson “the labeling of plant-based alternatives to foods of animal origin” and on the “labelling of plant-based milks” by the end of December 2022.

FoodNavigator-USA has reached out to the three sponsors of the Truth in Labeling legislation – Representatives Francis Thompson (D) and John Stefanski (R), and Senator Mark Abraham (R) – to comment on yesterday’s decision, and will update this article if they respond.

*The lawsuit is Turtle Island Foods SPC against Michael G. Strain in his official capacity as Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry. Case #3:20-cv-00674. In his March 28 ruling, Judge Brian Jackson granted Tofurky’s motion for summary judgment and denied Michael Strain’s motion for summary judgment.

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