The ACLU this morning asked federal Judge Kristine Baker to temporarily stop enforcement of the new Arkansas law aimed at preventing the use of words like “burger” and “hot dog” on products made with vegetables, not animals.
The pleading says the company that makes Tofurky, a plant-based meat-like product, will be required to overhaul its labeling and marketing if the law is enforced. Thus, it will be irreparably harmed by the act’s enforcement. The lawsuit and motion today contends the law is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. To prevail, the state must prove — and it cannot, the ACLU says — that the vegetable products have been marketed unlawfully or in a misleading way.
The law’s stated purpose is to prevent consumer confusion, but there is no evidence in the legislative record that consumers are confused about whether a veggie burger comes from a cow. To the contrary, people buy plant-based meats precisely because they are not made from slaughtered animals. Far from preventing consumer deception, the law is more likely to create consumer confusion by prohibiting companies from continuing to use self-evident terms like “vegan sausage” to accurately describe the taste, appearance, and texture of their products. The law’s tendency to confuse, rather than inform, is no accident; the legislative history reveals that the law’s true purpose is to benefit the meat industry by censoring the competition. When the government censors commercial speech in order to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, it disserves its constituents and violates the First Amendment. Because Act 501 is hopelessly unconstitutional, it must be immediately enjoined.
Here’s the motion for an injunction. The suit was filed in July. Plaintiffs are the American Civil Liberties Union, The Good Food Institute, Animal Legal Defense Fund and ACLU of Arkansas. The defendant is the state official who’ll enforce the law. The state attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, is, of course, defending the infringement of speech.
Similar laws are being challenged in other states.