LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal court today blocked the state of Arkansas from enforcing its meat label censorship law against The Tofurky Company. The law makes it illegal for companies to use words like “burger,” “sausage,” and “roast” to describe products that are not made from animals, such as veggie burgers, even if modified by qualifiers such as “vegan,” “veggie,” or “plant-based.” Violations of the law would carry fines of up to $1,000 for each individual label.
The ACLU, ACLU of Arkansas, The Good Food Institute, and Animal Legal Defense Fund are challenging the Arkansas censorship law on behalf of The Tofurky Company. They argue the 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 other industries.
The court block remains in effect while the underlying challenge proceeds.
The state maintained the law is necessary because consumers can be confused about whether a veggie burger comes from a cow. The state could not identify any evidence that consumers are confused about plant-based products.
The Arkansas law is substantially similar to meat-labeling censorship laws recently passed in Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and other states. A number of those laws face similar legal challenges, including by the ACLU, The Good Food Institute, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. 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.
Below are comments from:
Jaime Athos, CEO of Tofurky: “We are pleased that the court blocked this unconstitutional law from being enforced while our underlying lawsuit proceeds, so that consumers can continue to have access to familiar plant-based products in Arkansas for the foreseeable future. Plant-based foods are increasingly popular with savvy consumers who understand the health and environmental consequences of their actions and it brings us no small joy that these individuals will be able to set their everyday and holiday tables with the products of their choice. While they do, we will fight the law in court.”
Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, who argued the case: “We’re glad the court blocked the state’s blatantly unconstitutional effort to stifle competition by censoring speech. Legislatures that have passed or are considering similarly absurd laws in their states should take note of this ruling and correct course now.”
Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director: “Today’s ruling is a victory for consumers and animals alike. More and more consumers want plant-based foods that don’t require animal cruelty to be produced. Other states should be on notice that unconstitutional laws aimed at restricting free speech and stifling consumer choice won’t stand.”
Jessica Almy, Director of Policy, The Good Food Institute: “This is a victory for free speech, free markets, and consumer choice. Had this law been enforced, Tofurky would have faced a terrible choice: create confusing new labels for Arkansas with absurd language like "veggie tubes" and "veggie discs," risk violating the law, or stop selling food in Arkansas altogether. The court has put a stop to the significant government overreach and Arkansas consumers are now free to have all the choices available to consumers in other states.”
The preliminary injunction order is here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/turtle-island-foods-v-soman-preliminary-injunction-order.
An ACLU blog post on the case is here: https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/arkansas-made-it-illegal-call-veggie-burger-burger-were-suing.