Arkansas is the latest state to enact a ban on labeling plant-based products as "burgers" and "milk."

By Mike Pomranz
Updated July 24, 2019

The war over labeling plant-based foods has entered another state — and unsurprisingly, this latest battleground borders two states we were discussing earlier this month. Just a couple weeks ago, a lawsuit was filed in Mississippi claiming that the state’s restrictive labeling laws — which prevent plant-based products from being called “meat” — are unconstitutional. At the same time, the two sides of a similar suit in Missouri announced they couldn’t reach a settlement, meaning that litigation — which was launched by Tofurky, the Good Food Institute, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union — would be heading back to court. Now, that same group is taking new legal action, this time in the neighboring state of Arkansas, seeking to strike down a similarly restrictive law.

Credit: Leigh Vogel / Contributor/Getty Images

Arkansas’s meat labeling law, which is set to take effect tomorrow, would impose fines on brands using meat, dairy, or rice words on products that don’t fit the classic definition of these terms. According to the Associated Press, the law was penned by State Representative David Hillman, a rice farmer who stated that these terms are being used to confuse shoppers because plant-based brands “realize the only way they can get people to try their product is to confuse them.”

Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos took dead aim at this claim. “The only confusion here seems to be on the part of the Arkansas legislature, which seems to have forgotten its responsibility to its constituents in its rush to pass an unconstitutional law at the behest of its special interest donors,” he said. “What’s really going on here is that the state of Arkansas is seeking to limit access to healthier, more sustainable food choices for its constituents, and it is doing so to benefit the animal agriculture industry.”

The lawsuit was filed on Tofurky’s behalf by the ACLU, who took a similar stance in favor of consumer rights and against meat producers’ attempts to restrict competition. “It's absurdly patronizing that the government of Arkansas is asserting that the people of Arkansas can't tell a ‘veggie burger’ from a ‘hamburger,’ or a ‘tofu dog’ from a ‘hot dog,’” Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said. “The government should focus on genuine consumer protection problems instead of playing word games to benefit special interests at the First Amendment’s expense.”