BATON ROUGE, LA. – Turtle Island Foods, which manufactures Tofurky and other meat alternative products, recently scored a victory in federal court against the state of Louisiana when the judge in a civil lawsuit ruled as unconstitutional under the First Amendment the state’s Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act, which restricts the language used by plant-based protein makers to promote their products.

Tofurky filed a civil lawsuit challenging the law on Oct. 7, 2020, with Michael Strain, Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry named as the defendant. Lawyers for the company applauded the ruling.

“Louisiana’s labeling law was a clear and unconstitutional attempt to protect the animal agriculture industry from competition amidst the growing market for foods not derived from slaughtered or confined animals, which don’t carry the same risks to human health, animals, and the environment,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund which, along with the Good Food institute, represented Tofurky in court. “Under the First Amendment, companies are entitled to market and label their products in truthful ways that consumers will recognize and that aligns with their values.”

The Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act was signed into law on June 11, 2019, with an effective date of Oct. 1, 2020. The law names a variety of food products encompassed by the legislation and prohibits, among other activities:

  • Representing a food product as meat or a meat product when the food product is not derived from a harvested beef, pork, poultry, alligator, farm-raised deer, turtle, domestic rabbit, crawfish, or shrimp carcass.
  • Representing a food product as rice when the food product is not rice.
  • Representing a food product as beef or a beef product when the food product is not derived from a domesticated bovine.
  • Representing a food product as pork or a pork product when the food product is not derived from a domesticated swine.
  • Representing a food product as poultry when the food product is not derived from domesticated birds.

Judge Brian Jackson of the US District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, ruled that the Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act “impermissibly restricts commercial speech because the speech at issue is not misleading, and while the governmental interest is likely substantial, the Act is more extensive than necessary to further the government’s interest.”

Tofurky argued that the state had no evidence that consumers are confused by product labels on plant-based or cell cultured meats (which aren’t yet widely available) and thus couldn’t show that the Act advances the state’s interest of preventing consumer confusion. Jackson agreed.

“In support of its argument, Plaintiff cites the lack of complaints, investigations, or documents reflecting consumer confusion,” Jackson said. “Plaintiff also cites the Declaration of Jareb Gleckel, attorney and author of an empirical study entitled Are Customers Really Confused by Plant-Based Food Labels? An Empirical Study.

“Plaintiff argues that the State cannot point to any studies, evidence, or statistics concerning consumer confusion about plant-based or cell-cultured meat products,” Jackson added.

Jackson said the state bears the burden of justifying its prohibitions on commercial speech, and “has failed to address why alternative, less-restrictive means, such as a disclaimer, would not accomplish its goal of preventing consumer confusion.”