A federal court has ruled that a food labeling law in the state of Louisiana is unconstitutional, in response to a 2020 lawsuit filed by Tofurky, a producer of plant-based meat products.
Tofurky challenged a Louisiana law that took effect in 2020, the “Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act (Act),” which forbids representations of a food as meat, beef or pork, for example, when the food is not derived from such things as harvested beef, poultry and domesticated swine.
In a March 28 order granting summary judgment to Tofurky, U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson agreed the law infringes on constitutionally-protected speech in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Those subject to the law faced fines of up to $500 daily for using terms such as “burger” and “sausage” to represent their plant-based meat products, according to Tofurky and the organizations that represented the producer in federal court—the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Good Food Institute.
The law barred plant-based meat products from using those terms even when their labels featured such modifiers as “vegan,” “veggie” or “plant-based,” the groups added.
Jackson found the law was an infringement on protected commercial speech, based on a four-part test expressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1980 decision, Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of N.Y.
“Applying the Central Hudson test, the 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,” he wrote.
While Tofurky challenged the Act, the government official responsible for administering and enforcing it—the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) commissioner—had not brought an enforcement action against the plant-based meat producer for violating the food products labeling law, according to the judge’s summary judgment order.
Nor had the LDAF received any complaints from consumers about Tofurky’s labels or, more generally, labels for plant-based meat products or cell cultured food products, Jackson observed.
“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,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a news release. “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.”
Mike Strain, commissioner of the LDAF, said his agency is in the process of “reading and digesting” the court ruling.
“By law, I am charged with the enforcement of this law,” the commissioner said in a statement. “In this case, it appears the court may have misapplied the law. On the advice of counsel, we will certainly consider seeking an appeal."