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Federal Judge Dismissed Lawsuit by Tofurky and Others Over New Meat Labeling Law

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Federal Judge Dismissed Lawsuit by Tofurky and Others Over New Meat Labeling Law

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As Thanksgiving approaches, many vegetarians and those who choose to eat plant-based foods will be pursuing non-meat substitutes such as Turtle Island Foods’ popular tofurky as well as a variety of popular plant-based burgers and other products. However, the labeling of these non-meat products came into question when Missouri introduced a new labeling law, prohibiting companies from “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production [of] livestock or poultry”. Missouri is the first state to introduce this type of bill, with penalties of up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000 for violation.

The “fake meat” labeling law was not particularly well-received.

Tofurky and other non-profit corporations whose purpose is to create and support companies that produce plant-based or clean meat products immediately challenged the bill. Their official complaint against the state of Missouri claimed that the new labeling law “is a content-based, overbroad, and vague criminal law that prevents the sharing of truthful information and impedes competition by plant-based and clean-meat companies in the marketplace.” The complaint goes on to allege that this Statute is in direct violation of the First Amendment of the United States regarding freedom of speech.

After reviewing their argument, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. dismissed the lawsuit.

The judge pointed out that “the statute only prohibits companies from misleading consumers into believing that a product is meat from livestock when it is, in fact, plant-based or lab-grown.” Seeing as none of the plaintiffs had violated the application of the law, nor would it force them to change their labeling as each of the products in question clearly evidence on the packaging that their products are plant-based, it seems there was nowhere else for the lawsuit to go.

Despite the dismissal of this lawsuit, it sets up a useful precedent for the law’s interpretation and application.

Despite the somewhat vague nature of the law itself, this decision sets up a useful precedent for companies and courts moving forward. As long as a plant-based meat substitute truthfully discloses the ingredients on the labeling, and does not pretend to be meat from poultry or livestock, they are not at risk of prosecution for violating the fake meat labeling law. Still, the plaintiffs have appealed the judge’s decision and the labeling law will continue to be enforced until the time comes, if it does come, that it is overturned.

Missouri is only the first of several states to institute similar labeling laws regarding plant-based meat substitutes; Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming are all taking similar measures to prevent the inaccurate advertisement of plant-based products as livestock or poultry. Depending on the application of these laws, complaints like the one discussed here may be likely to show up again in the near future.

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