JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – A company that sells plant-based meat products and a nonprofit that advocates for those culinary alternatives challenged a Missouri law Monday that restricts organizations like theirs from using the term “meat” to describe their products.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Missouri on Monday by The Tofurky Company and the Good Food Institute alleges that a state statute violates their rights to due process and commercial free speech.
The 22-page complaint states that the statute “criminalizes truthful speech by prohibiting ‘misrepresenting’ a product as ‘meat’ if that product is ‘not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.’”
The penalty for violating the statute, which goes into effect Tuesday, is incarceration of up to one year as well as a fine of up to $1,000.
The language of the law was originally proposed by the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and presented to state Sen. Sandy Crawford for introduction. The intention is to prohibit plant-based meat and clean meat companies from marketing their products as “meat” analogues or using the term “meat” in the advertising, labeling or packaging of their products.
After being championed by three lawmakers whom the complaint claims have strong ties to the animal agriculture industry, the language of the statute was eventually folded into an omnibus agriculture bill sponsored by state Sen. Brian Munzlinger, a member of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association.
The plaintiffs said they feel that the legislation is aimed at commercially harming the plant-based meat and clean meat industries and seeks to restrict their speech in order to protect the conventional meat industry from competition.
“Americans don’t like censorship, and they don’t like the government picking winners and losers in the marketplace,” said Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, in an emailed statement. “We’re confident that the court will overturn this anti-competitive and unconstitutional law.”
Plant-based meats like the types Tofurky produces and advocates approximate the texture, flavor and appearance of conventional meats from slaughtered animals. These meat alternatives are typically made from soy, tempeh, wheat, jackfruit, textured vegetable protein or other vegan ingredients. One can find many of them in almost any grocery store, as well as in restaurants and other retailers.
In a news release Monday, Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells stated that “As more and more consumers are making the conscious choice to remove animals from their plates, Missouri is putting its thumb on the scale to unfairly benefit the meat industry and silence alternative producers.”
In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue that consumers are not going to be bamboozled by their products’ packaging and will not mistake them for conventional meat.
“The marketing and packaging of plant-based products reveals that plant-based food producers do not mislead consumers but instead distinguish their products from conventional meat products while also describing how these plant-based meat products can fulfill the same roles conventional meat has traditionally played in consumers’ meals,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs point out that there are already state and federal regulations prohibiting misrepresentations in the marketing of food products. One such example is a Missouri law that prohibits “false or misleading statement[s]” in the promotion of goods for sale.
A law prohibiting such common-sense terminology, the plaintiffs said, will severely disadvantage their products in the marketplace. The complaint affirms that the plaintiffs “cannot accurately and effectively describe their products without comparison to the conventional meat products they are designed to replace.”
The lawsuit names Mark Richardson, the Cole County prosecuting attorney as a defendant. Representatives from the Cole County prosecutor’s office could not be reached Monday evening after business hours for comment.