Tofurky, the Turtle Island Foods subsidiary that makes vegan alternatives to meat, has filed a federal lawsuit in Little Rock’s U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas challenging Arkansas’s new so-called “truth in labeling” law. Under the new law, Act 501, plant-based meat alternatives, like Tofurky, billed as “meat” will be considered mislabeled in Arkansas and subject to a fine of up to $1,000. Ditto for rice alternatives like “cauliflower rice” that contain no actual rice.

This ridiculous sop to the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association and Arkansas Rice Federation was sponsored by Rep. David Hillman (R-Almyra) and Sen. Bruce Maloch (D-Magnolia). Arkansas is the sixth state to pass such a law defining meat as something derived from an animal carcass, and the first to pass a rice label law. The dairy industry, which has seen its sales deeply undercut with the popularity of plant-based alternatives, has pushed similar legislation to define “milk” as a product that contains animal secretions. So many marketing possibilities there!

The American Civil Liberties Union, The Good Food Institute, Animal Legal Defense Fund and ACLU of Arkansas filed the suit.

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From a news release:

It argues the Arkansas law violates the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause by improperly censoring truthful speech and creating consumer confusion in order to shore up the state’s meat and rice industries. The lawsuit adds that there is no evidence that the current labels mislead consumers, pointing out that Tofurky’s products all clearly indicate the products are plant-based, meatless, vegetarian, or vegan. The law’s proponents have admitted that the law’s purpose is to protect the agricultural producers in the state.

“The only confusion here seems to be on the part of the Arkansas legislature, which seems to have forgotten its responsibility to its constituents in its rush to pass an unconstitutional law at the behest of its special interest donors,” said Jaime Athos, CEO of Tofurky. “When consumers choose plant-based foods, it is not because they are confused or misled, it is because they are savvy and educated about the health and environmental consequences of eating animal products. What’s really going on here is that the state of Arkansas is seeking to limit access to healthier, more sustainable food choices for its constituents, and it is doing so to benefit the animal agriculture industry.”

The Arkansas law is substantially similar to meat-labeling censorship laws recently passed in Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and other states. A number of those laws face similar legal challenges, including by the ACLU, Good Food Institute, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The Missouri law, for instance, was initially proposed by the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. When discussing the perceived need for the Missouri law, state representative Jeff Knight publicly admitted that: “We’re just trying to protect our product.” Animal agriculture industry representatives previously warned producers that competition from plant-based and cell-based options is one of the “major challenges” the animal meat industry faces in 2018.

The following comments are from:

Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project: “It’s absurdly patronizing that the government of Arkansas is asserting that the people of Arkansas can’t tell a ‘veggie burger’ from a ‘hamburger,’ or a ‘tofu dog’ from a ‘hot dog.’ The government should focus on genuine consumer protection problems instead of playing word games to benefit special interests at the First Amendment’s expense.”

Holly Dickson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas: “Instead of protecting consumers, this law denies them accurate information about the products they see on shelves. This heavy-handed attempt to manipulate the way food can be described for the benefit of corporations and special interests is a violation of the First Amendment and an insult to consumers. Forcing ‘tofu dogs’ to be sold and packaged as ‘tofu products’ will make it harder for people to know what they’re buying and find the products they need.”

Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director: “More and more, consumers are seeking out plant-based foods that can be produced without cruelty to animals or polluting our environment. But Arkansas’ lawmakers, kowtowing to the animal agriculture industry, have responded by enacting an unconstitutional law that makes truthful speech a crime.”

Jessica Almy, Director of Policy, Good Food Institute: “It’s absurd and unconstitutional to censor veggie burger labels. We are bringing this litigation in order to stand up for free speech, free markets, and consumer choice. We are confident that the court will strike down this gross overstep of state power.”