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Tofurky heartened despite losing appeal of Louisiana plant-based label law

2023-04-12T18:53:00Z

A federal appeals court on Wednesday said Louisiana can enforce a state law forbidding companies from using meat-like terms when selling plant-based food, reversing a lower court ruling in a case brought by the maker of Tofurky.

In a 3-0 decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the state’s Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act did not infringe Tofurky’s First Amendment commercial free speech rights.

But while rejecting Tofurky’s claim that the law was unconstitutional on its face, the panel read the law narrowly, saying Louisiana meant to punish only companies that “actually intend” to mislead consumers.

“Everyone agrees that Tofurky does not intentionally misrepresent its products as meat and does not intend to start,” Circuit Judge Edith Brown Clement said.

Also known as Turtle Island Foods, Tofurky uses words such as “burger,” “hot dogs” and “sausage” on products, but prominently labels that they are “plant-based.”

Amanda Howell, a lawyer for the Animal Legal Defense Fund representing Tofurky, said the decision appeared to bless the naming and marketing practices of plant-based food producers.

“Companies like Tofurky can rest easier,” she said in an interview. “If you’re not trying to trick consumers, such as by selling sawdust as a hamburger, then you should be okay.”

Lawyers for Louisiana agriculture and forestry commissioner Mike Strain did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Enacted in 2020, the Louisiana law barred several labeling practices, including representing food as “meat or a meat product” when beef, pork, poultry and the like are not used.

In suing, Tofurky had said it would be too complicated and expensive to create Louisiana-specific labels to comply.

The Hood River, Oregon-based company has challenged similar laws in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Such laws often draw support from Republicans and the animal agriculture industry.

Wednesday’s decision reversed a March 2022 ruling by U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The case is Turtle Island Foods SPC v. Strain, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-30236.

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