As some of you might know, an Arkansas law makes it illegal for companies to use words like “burger,” “sausage,” and “roast” to describe products that are not made from meat.
As a result, veggie burgers – even modified by qualifiers such as “vegan,” “veggie,” or “plant-based” – are deemed illegal. Well, not anymore. A federal court today blocked the state of Arkansas from enforcing its meat label censorship law against The Tofurky Company.
The Arkansas lawmakers considered that labeling a non-meat product with a title such as “sausage” or “burger” was misleading to consumers and caused confusion. The law is called “An Act to Require Truth in Labeling of Agricultural Products That Are Edible by Humans,” and it also covers all dairy, horticultural, viticultural, and even bee-related, products. In theory, it could also render illegal the labeling of products such as soy milk and cauliflower rice.
The ACLU, ACLU of Arkansas, The Good Food Institute, and Animal Legal Defense Fund challenged the Arkansas law on behalf of The Tofurky Company. They claimed that the law violates the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, censoring truthful speech and creating consumer confusion. And they were right. United States District Judge Kristine G. Baker blocked the current Arkansas law under the assumption that a reasonable consumer will not disregard all the other words found on the label. Therefore a properly labeled “veggie burger” could not be mistaken for a meat burger, no matter what.
Legislatures that have passed or are considering similarly laws – like South Dakota, Mississippi and Louisiana – will have to take note of this ruling and take a long look at their own acts. And with the looming prospect of lab-grown meat products hitting the market in the nearby future, the policy-makers should carefully reconsider their entire approach.