This month, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed SB 152 into law prohibiting plant-based and cell-based companies from using terminology such as “meat” and “beef,” which the law deems can only be applied to dead animal flesh. The law—which will be enforced by the agriculture commissioner—defines “meat” as “a portion of a beef, pork, poultry, alligator, farm-raised deer, turtle, domestic rabbit, crawfish, or shrimp carcass that is edible by humans,” a definition that explicitly excludes “synthetic product derived from a plant, insect, or other source” and “cell-cultured food product grown in a laboratory from animal cells.” Starting October 1, 2020, companies found in violation of the new law will be subject to court proceedings and a civil penalty of up to $500 per day per violation. Louisiana is the latest state to pass a so-called “Truth in Labeling” law that attempts to place restrictions on products such as “plant-based burgers” and “vegan bacon” under the auspices of protecting consumers from being misled by those claims.
Opponents of these laws—which have either been proposed or passed in as many as 25 states—argue that their restrictive language is a violation of corporate free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. Last year, Missouri passed its version of this type of legislation—titled “Missouri Meat Advertising Law”—which initially aimed to similarly limit the use of “meat” terms but allowed modifiers such “plant-based” to describe products allowing companies such as Beyond Meat to continue to operate in the state without label changes. Following the passage of Missouri’s law, vegan brand Tofurky—along with co-plaintiffs food-advocacy group Good Food Institute (GFI), animal-rights organization Animal Legal Defense Fund, and human-rights group American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri—filed a lawsuit against the state on the basis that the new law is unconstitutional in that it criminalizes free and truthful speech and unfairly discourages competition.
“Out of the many similar bills introduced this year, Louisiana’s law is the broadest, censoring a wide range of food labels including plant-based meat,” GFI Staff Attorney Nicole Manu told VegNews, explaining that two of the three politicians who introduced the bill, Senator Francis C. Thompson and Representative John Stefanski, have openly stated that the legislation is meant to protect the animal-agriculture industry first and foremost. “Consumers understand the labels of plant-based meat. Plant-based food labels pair conventional meat terms with a modifier like ‘plant-based’ or ‘veggie’ in order to communicate to consumers that the food is functionally similar to conventional meat but is instead plant-based. For example, a product labeled as ‘veggie burger’ signals to consumers that it is plant-based but can be grilled, placed between a bun, and topped with mustard and ketchup,” Manu said. “On a broader scale, it seems like ag-friendly legislators are introducing laws like this to censor their competitors. They see how popular plant-based milks are and the rising popularity of plant-based meats, so they want to protect the conventional agriculture industry.”
Photo Credit: Lightlife Foods