On 8th April 2023, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the US state of Louisiana can enforce a state law forbidding companies from intentionally using misleading meat-like terms when selling plant-based food. This reverses a March 2022 ruling by US District Judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a case brought by Tofurky, the famous vegan company that produces plant-based alternatives to turkey. The federal court 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. However, the panel read the law narrowly, saying Louisiana meant to punish only companies that “actually intend” to mislead consumers. The case is Turtle Island Foods SPC v. Strain, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-30236.
The law was defended by Mike Strain, Louisiana’s Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner. Enacted in 2020, this Louisiana law barred several labelling practices, including representing food as “meat or a meat product” when “beef”, “pork”, “poultry”, and the like are not used. 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.
Circuit Judge Edith Brown Clement said, “Everyone agrees that Tofurky does not intentionally misrepresent its products as meat and does not intend to start.” Tofurky uses words such as “burger” “hot dogs”, and “sausage” on products but prominently labels them as “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. She said, “Companies like Tofurky can rest easier. If you’re not trying to trick consumers, such as by selling sawdust as a hamburger, then you should be okay.”