The veggie burger at the Corner in Midtown: Would this fool you?
Earlier this year, the Missouri legislature passed a law that would criminalize purveyors of meat alternatives — you know, stuff like Tofurky — unless they clearly note that their products don't actually contain meat.
Now Tofurky's parent company is suing, in concert with the ACLU of Missouri, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Good Food Institute. The legislation, they say, "is designed to do only one thing: Unjustly tip the scales in favor of Missouri’s incumbent beef, pork, and poultry sectors against Missouri consumers and plant-based food producers."
The lawsuit, filed in federal court yesterday, argues that Missouri's new requirements make truthful advertising a crime. (And, yeah, we have a history of that stuff in the Show Me State
.) Those found in violation could face up to a year in jail or $1,000 fine.
And that doesn't sit well with the ACLU. “Corporations – just like individuals – have the First Amendment right to free, truthful speech,” ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert said in a prepared release. “This law is unconstitutional because it makes truthful speech a crime.”
As the lawsuit notes, companies selling meat alternatives often use "meat analogues" in their labels: “vegan jerky,” “meatless vegan jerky: seitan,” “smart bacon: veggie bacon strips,” “teriyaki chick’n strips: meat-free,” “the ultimate beefless burger,” etcetera. The labels aren't designed to mislead, but to explain what the meatless product is imitating.
"The marketing and packaging of plant-based products ... 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 suit notes. Yet under the new Missouri law, producers who use such terms "now face a credible threat of prosecution for their speech."
That's even though other state laws already bar "false or misleading" statements. And the Missouri Attorney General, who's in charge of enforcing the current state statues barring "false or misleading" product statements, has received zero complaints from consumers who inadvertently bought a meat-free product.
The ACLU also argues that Missouri's law violates the U.S. Dormant Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state companies to protect in-state meat producers and the Due Process Clause: It's so vague, it’s impossible for companies to ascertain what's legal and what isn't.
The law, which was pushed by the Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Cattlemen's Association, is set to go into effect today. The organizations suing are seeking a preliminary injunction in the Western District of Missouri to stop enforcement for now — as well as a permanent injunction to block it going forward. They're also seeking a declaration that the statute is "unconstitutional on its face," as well as attorneys' fees.
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