Big Ag’s Beef with Fake Meat

By: Alicia Stoklosa

In the last year almost half of the states have introduced legislation known as “meat censorship laws.”[1] The legislation aims to stop meat alternatives such as vegetable products and lab-grown meat being marketed as meat, as they are not derived from livestock or poultry. The motivation behind such legislation appears to be protecting the consumer from mistakenly buying alternatives instead of “real meat.”[2] Unsurprisingly, many states at the forefront of these legislative pushes have a heavy livestock and agricultural presence.[3]

On August 28, 2018, Missouri became the first state to pass a truth in advertising law that aims to prevent plant-based and cell cultured meat alternatives being advertised as meat.[4] Any producer failing to include an appropriate disclaimer after January 1, 2019 would be subject to fines and a possible jail sentence.[5] Two days after the law took effect the Missouri Department of Agriculture issued guidelines for companies to not violate the statute. These guidelines included clearly displaying a prominent statement on the label (immediately before or after the product name) qualifying the product as “plant based” “veggie” “lab grown” or lab created” or “made from plants.”[6]

Missouri’s law was subject to a lawsuit filed by a variety of organizations including Tofurkey and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.[7] The plaintiffs claim the law is unconstitutional and violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the Dormant Commerce Clause, and the Due Process Clause.[8] While settlement talks between the parties began in late 2018, as of July 2019, the parties planned to resume litigation.[9] Other states embroiled in similar lawsuits include Arkansas and Mississippi.[10]

On September 30, 2019, a federal judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of Missouri’s fake meat labeling law.[11] In defending his decision, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. stated that Tofurky would not be affected by the law.[12] Tofurky’s packaging already truthfully discloses that its products are plant-based or lab grown and are therefore in accordance with the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s guidelines.[13] However, this decision leaves other producers, whose labeling techniques are not identical to Tofurky’s, in the dark as to whether they are in danger of violating the statute.

Tofurky promptly appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth District, and oral argument would likely be heard in early 2020.[14] Regardless of the outcome, an important precedent is on the horizon that will affect all plant-based meat alternatives.

Image from LA Times

[1] Elaine Watson, Plant-based and cell-cultured ‘meat’ labeling under attack in 25 states, Food Navigator, (May 30, 2019) https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2019/05/29/Plant-based-and-cell-cultured-meat-labeling-under-attack-in-25-states#.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Missouri Dept. of Agric., Public Statement: Meat Labeling Law (2018).

[5] Id.

[6] Brian Kaberline, A Meaty Court Battle Awaits Missouri Food Labeling Law, Kansas City Business Journal, (July 15, 2019) https://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/news/2019/07/15/a-meaty-court-battle-awaits-missouri-food-labeling.html.

[7] Cathy Siegner, Will Missouri’s new labeling law criminalizing ‘meat’ hurt the plant-based sector?, Fooddive, (Jan. 8, 2019) https://www.fooddive.com/news/will-missouris-new-labeling-law-criminalizing-meat-hurt-the-plant-based/545445.

[8] Complaint for Plaintiff at 2, Turtle Island Foods, SPC v. Richardson, No. 18-cv-4173 (Aug. 27, 2018).

[9] Michelle C. Pardo, No Meating of the Minds: Settlement Reaches An Impasse In Missouri Meat Advertising Lawsuit, Animal developments, (July 9, 2019) https://blogs.duanemorris.com/animallawdevelopments/2019/07/09/no-meating-of-the-minds-settlement-reaches-an-impasse-in-missouri-meat-advertising-lawsuit/.

[10] Alina Selyukh, What Gets to be a Burger; States Restrict Labels on Plant Based Meat, NPR, (July 23, 2019) https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/07/23/744083270/what-gets-to-be-a-burger-states-restrict-labels-on-plant-based-meat.

[11] Michelle C. Pardo, Court Rejects Tofurky’s Request for Preliminary Injunction to Halt Enforcement of Missouri’s Meat Advertising Law, Animal Developments, (Oct. 8, 2019) https://blogs.duanemorris.com/animallawdevelopments/2019/10/08/court-rejects-tofurkys-request-for-preliminary-injunction-to-halt-enforcement-of-missouris-meat-advertising-law/.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

3 comments

  1. Great post Alicia! I was unaware that states were looking to pass laws such as these. Now that plant-based “meat” has become so popular, I’m sure this will not be the only challenge against such legislation. It will be interesting to see what states move forward with these types of laws.

  2. Great article, Alicia! I question the stated motivations behind these pieces of legislation because it seems highly unlikely that anyone is mistaking tofu for beef. This seems like a clear attempt to favor animal-based manufacturers over plant-based manufacturers. I’m curious what the first amendment implications are.

  3. This is a fascinating example of the meat industry using the legal arena to attack its major competitors- I would be interested to see how the court will rule on this, because that decision may have significant ripple effects. If packaging labels change considerably, might grocery stores then move all meat substitutes farther from real meat, dividing the products even more? That could certainly have an impact on consumer choice.

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