Challenging Louisiana’s Meat-Labeling Censorship Law

Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tofurky challenging a Louisiana law that would impose fines of up to $500 per day for every advertisement or sale of plant-based meat products that include terms like “burger” and “sausage,” even when paired with terms like “veggie,” “plant-based,” or “vegan.”

Updated

October 7, 2020

Work Type

Litigation

Status

Active

Next Step

Defendant to Answer Complaint on October 29, 2020

On October 7, 2020, Animal Legal Defense Fund and The Good Food Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tofurky challenging a Louisiana law that would impose fines of up to $500 per day for every advertisement or sale of plant-based meat products that include terms like “burger” and “sausage,” even when paired with terms like “veggie,” “plant-based,” or “vegan.” The challenged law became effective on October 1, 2020.

The lawsuit argues that the Louisiana law violates Tofurky’s First Amendment right to free speech by improperly censoring truthful commercial speech. The lawsuit further argues there is no evidence that current labels mislead consumers, pointing out that Tofurky’s products all clearly indicate the products are plant-based, meatless, vegetarian, or vegan.

The Food and Drug Administration requires that all plant-based products use a clear statement of identity that explains their nature and contents using common or usual terms. This includes terms that the public is familiar with — like “burger” and “hot dog” — because they inform consumers about how products can be served and what they taste like. The animal agriculture industry, in a clear attempt to make plant-based products less appetizing to consumers, has suggested that they be forced to use terms like “veggie pucks” instead of “veggie burger” and “vegan tubes” instead of “vegan hot dogs.”

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Francis Thompson, has admitted that he designed the law to protect certain Louisiana agricultural producers from growing competition from plant-based meat, riced vegetables, and meat grown directly from animal cells, called “cultivated” or “cultured” meat.

Who is being sued, why, and under what law? Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), arguing that the Louisiana law violates Tofurky’s First Amendment right to free speech by improperly censoring truthful commercial speech. The lawsuit further argues there is no evidence that current labels mislead consumers, pointing out that Tofurky’s products all clearly indicate the products are plant-based, meatless, vegetarian, or vegan.

What court is the lawsuit filed in? United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana

Why this case is important: There is no legitimate, constitutional reason for the LDAF to censor Tofurky. The agency’s attempts to restrict terminology are unconstitutional and harm plant-based alternatives to animal products.

The animal agriculture industry claims that terms like “burger” and “sausage” on plant-based products confuses consumers, yet there is no evidence to support such claims. Moreover, animal agriculture causes immense animal suffering, pollutes the environment, and threatens human health and welfare.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has been at the forefront of demanding fair oversight of plant-based foods, in the face of aggressive lobbying by factory farming interests — which have attempted to strongarm state and federal lawmakers, and regulatory agencies, into prohibiting plant-based products from using commonly understood terms in their marketing and packaging.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is working to ensure these unconstitutional laws are struck down and that plant- and cultured meat products — animal meat produced from animals’ cells, without having to raise and kill living, feeling beings — have equal footing in the marketplace. The organization currently represents the interests of both plant- and cultured meat producers in lawsuits in California, Missouri, and Arkansas that challenge unconstitutional product labeling restrictions.

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