Today, vegan brand Tofurky Co.—backed by The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Good Food Institute (GFI), Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), and ACLU of Arkansas—filed a lawsuit against the state of Arkansas to challenge the constitutionality of its so-called “Truth in Labeling” law scheduled to go into effect on July 24. Under the new law, companies that use “meat” and “dairy” terminology on plant-based products are subject to $1,000 fines per offense. The law also prohibits the use of modifiers such as “plant-based” or “vegan,” making terms such as “veggie burger,” “vegan chicken,” and “plant-based milk” illegal. Proponents of Arkansas’ new law—which also bans the use of the term “cauliflower rice” in the rice-producing state—claim that its enactment will dispel consumer confusion about plant-based labels. However, Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos says that the law was created to protect the interests of the meat, dairy, and rice industries and infringes upon free-speech rights protected by the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“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,” Athos says. “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.”
A number of states have passed similar legislation in recent years, including the Missouri Meat Advertising Law(MMAL)—which was initially proposed by the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. Proponents of MMAL argued the law was needed in order to help consumers discern between plant-based and animal-based products. However, in speaking about the actual purpose of the law, state representative Jeff Knight publicly admitted that, “We’re just trying to protect our product.” Last year, Tofurky, along with GFI, ACLU of Missouri, and ALDF, challenged the MMAL on similar grounds as its current lawsuit against Arkansas. “It’s absurd and unconstitutional to censor veggie burger labels,” Jessica Almy, GFI Director of Policy and an attorney for plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said. “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.”