Court rules against Louisiana plant-based foods labeling law

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BATON ROUGE, LA. – Turtle Island Foods, which makes tofurky and other meat alternatives, recently won a victory in federal court against the state of Louisiana when a civil trial judge ruled unconstitutional under the first state truth amendment on food labeling. which restricts the language used by plant protein manufacturers to promote their products.

Tofurky filed a civil lawsuit challenging the law on October 7, 2020, with Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Michael Strain named as a defendant. The company’s attorneys applauded the decision.

“Louisiana’s labeling law was a clear and unconstitutional attempt to protect the animal agriculture industry from competition in the growing market for foods not derived from slaughtered or confined animals, which do not include the same risks to human health, animals, and the environment,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which along with the Good Food Institute has represented Tofurky in court. “Under the First Amendment , businesses have the right to market and label their products truthfully that consumers will recognize and that reflects their values.”

The Truth in Food Labeling Act was signed into law on June 11, 2019, with an effective date of October 1, 2020. The act names a variety of food products covered by the legislation and prohibits, among other activities :

  • Represent a food product as meat or a meat product when the food product is not derived from a carcass of beef, pork, poultry, alligator, farmed deer, turtle, rabbit domestic, crayfish or shrimp.
  • Representing a food product as rice when the food product is not rice.
  • Depicting a food product as beef or a beef product when the food product is not derived from domestic cattle.
  • Representing a food product as pork or a pork product when the food product is not derived from a domestic pig.
  • Represent a food product as poultry when the food product does not come from domestic birds.

Judge Brian Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Intermediate District of Louisiana ruled that the Truth in Food Labeling Act “unacceptably restricts commercial speech because the speech at issue is not misleading , and while the governmental interest is probably substantial, the law is broader than necessary to serve the interests of the government.

Tofurky argued that the state had no evidence that consumers were confused by product labels on plant-based or cell-cultured meats (which are not yet widely available) and therefore could not show that the law advanced the state’s interest in preventing consumer confusion. Jackson agreed.

“In support of its argument, Plaintiff cites the lack of complaints, investigations, or documentation reflecting consumer confusion,” Jackson said. “The plaintiff also cites the statement of Jareb Gleckel, lawyer and author of an empirical study entitled Are customers really confused by plant-based food labels? An empirical study.

“Plaintiff submits that the state cannot cite any studies, evidence, or statistics regarding consumer confusion about plant-based or cell-cultured meat products,” Jackson added.

Jackson said the state bears the onus of justifying its commercial speech bans and “has not explained why less restrictive alternative means, such as a warning, would not achieve its goal of preventing consumer confusion. “.

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