A federal judge on Tuesday roasted Arkansas' law banning makers of meatless meat products from using words such as "burger," "sausage," "roast," and "meat" in their labeling.
Judge Kristine Baker, of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, granted a preliminary injunction that prevents the state from enforcing the law while the legal case is ongoing. In her order, Judge Baker made clear that the law appears to violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment—as Tofurky argued. She determined that the state will likely lose the case.
"The State argues that Tofurky's labels for its plant-based products are inherently misleading because they use the names and descriptors of traditional meat items but do not actually include the product they invoke, including terms like 'chorizo,' 'hot dogs,' 'sausage,' and 'ham roast,'" Judge Baker noted. Such misleading or false labels would not be protected commercial speech under the First Amendment, the state claimed.
But Judge Baker essentially called that argument bologna.
She went on to cite a ruling in a similar case that determined that "Under Plaintiffs' logic, a reasonable consumer might also believe that veggie bacon contains pork, that flourless chocolate cake contains flour, or that e-books are made out of paper."
"That assumption is unwarranted," she went on. "The labels in the record evidence include ample terminology to indicate the vegan or vegetarian nature of the products."
Meat and dairy industry groups have been increasingly working to try to limit the use of terms like "milk" and "meat" in other states and contexts as meatless and diary-free products continue to grow in popularity. Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Dakota have similar anti-veggie-meat labeling laws. In Wisconsin, lawmakers have considered banning non-dairy products from using the word "milk," such as beverages labeled almond milk.
The latter issue led former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb to quip last year that "You know, an almond doesn't lactate." He said that the Food and Drug Administration is working on a guidance for the use of the term.