The Arkansas law sought to ban terms like "beef" and "burger" on the packaging of plant-based products.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated December 13, 2019
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In November, producers of plant-based foods scored a huge victory in Mississippi when the state legislature reversed course on plans to ban the use of “meaty” terms on plant-based meat alternatives, following a lawsuit from Upton's Naturals and the Plant Based Foods Association.

But just because the case has been closed in Mississippi doesn’t mean similar high-profile battles aren’t being fought in other states like Missouri and Arkansas. However, in the latter case, once again, plant-based producers have scored a victory this week—if only a temporary one: A federal court has blocked Arkansas from enforcing its similar labeling law while a lawsuit from Tofurky is still pending in court.

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Back in July, Tofurky sued Arkansas with the help of the Good Food Institute, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming that the state’s new law—which banned the use of agricultural terms like “beef” or “burger” even when used with qualifiers like “plant-based” or “vegan”—violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

“Given that the case at issue fundamentally revolves around constitutional rights and that Tofurky has demonstrated its likelihood of prevailing on the merits, the Court finds that the grant of an injunction is in the public interest,” U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker wrote in the ruling. Though the case is still ongoing, this injunction can have significant financial benefits for the plaintiff: The law allowed for fines of up to $1,000 for each individual label that violated the new regulations.

“We are pleased that the court blocked this unconstitutional law from being enforced while our underlying lawsuit proceeds, so that consumers can continue to have access to familiar plant-based products in Arkansas for the foreseeable future,” Jaime Athos, CEO of Tofurky, said in an emailed statement.

Meanwhile, Jessica Almy, director of policy at The Good Food Institute, spoke to the repercussions had the injunction not been issued. “Tofurky would have faced a terrible choice: create confusing new labels for Arkansas with absurd language like ‘veggie tubes’ and ‘veggie discs,’ risk violating the law, or stop selling food in Arkansas altogether,” she stated. “The court has put a stop to the significant government overreach and Arkansas consumers are now free to have all the choices available to consumers in other states.”

After the ruling, the plaintiffs pointed out that Arkansas’s law is extremely similar to meat-labeling laws in other states such as Louisiana and South Dakota. And Brian Hauss, the ALCU staff attorney who argued the case, had a message for these parts of the country. “Legislatures that have passed or are considering similarly absurd laws in their states should take note of this ruling and correct course now,” he stated.

Still, this fight is likely far from over. We’ve seen interest on the federal level in attempting to regulate the way plant-based foods are labeled and repeated calls to the FDA to restrict the use of the term “milk.” It would seem that as long as there are companies worried about competition from plant-based alternatives, these sort of arguments will continue.