Louisiana plant-based meat labeling law is unconstitutional, judge rules

Dive Brief: 

  • A federal judge ruled that a Louisiana state law prohibiting meat terminology on food not derived from animal carcasses is unconstitutional. Tofurky, joined by the Good Food Institute and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit challenging the law in 2020. As a result of the ruling, the law cannot be enforced.
  • U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson wrote the law constituted “an impermissible restriction on Plaintiffs commercial speech.” The state argued the law was necessary to prevent consumer confusion, but the judge ruled there was no evidence that this occurred with plant-based meat products.
  • Several states, which have passed laws to restrict labeling on plant-based and cell-based meat products, have been challenged in court. A lawsuit in Mississippi got the state to change its labeling regulations. Tofurky is the lead plaintiff in pending lawsuits in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri.

Dive Insight:

In a plainly worded opinion, the logic and explanation behind Louisiana’s law prohibiting certain terminology on food products was summarily dismissed.

Louisiana argued Tofurky’s current labels would not be subject to the law’s penalties — which could be up to $500 per product. The judge said the existence of the law means Tofurky may not be able to label its products as it would want to in the future. And, the judge said, the fact that no complaints had been filed under the law from the time it was initially signed in 2019 until now shows there is no consumer confusion.

The law also would have impacted labeling for riced cauliflower and cell-based meat, which to date has not been approved for consumer consumption.

In a statement, Tofurky President and CEO Jaime Athos called the ruling a “victory for the entire plant-based industry.”

“The law was an obvious attempt to give unfair advantage to animal agriculture interests by stifling the growth of plant-based food sales,” Athos said. “This ruling serves as a warning to other state legislatures who may forget that they are elected to serve the needs of their constituents, not those of corporate special interests.”

Representatives from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, which was the entity fighting the lawsuit, did not respond to requests for comment.

This ruling continues the poor track record of state laws intended to limit terminology on plant-based products. None has stood up to a legal challenge yet, though the strategy of the Oklahoma case changed last year and judges have failed to put a hold on the Missouri law while the case made its way through court.

But this decision brings something new to the table for all of these state labeling laws: a legal precedent. Because this is a federal court order, companies can use the arguments and conclusions made in this case to fight similar state labeling laws on grounds they violate free speech. Considering all of the pending lawsuits have been brought by Tofurky, the plaintiff in the three pending cases is very aware of the ruling.

The ruling also could be used to counsel a state against similar restrictive labeling legislation — and not just for plant-based or cell-based meat. The foundational arguments in the ruling could be extended to any prospective rule that limits the way food products can be labeled in a single state. The struck-down law specifically mentioned riced cauliflower, but it could also be applied to products like veggie noodles or non-dairy cheese.