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Legal wranglings over the first-in-the-nation rules pit beef and poultry producers against those selling plant-based meat alternatives.
A coalition of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Good Food Institute is seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the immediate enforcement of Missouri’s new law that prohibits plant-based products from being labeled or marketed as “meat” unless they come from a slaughtered animal.
The legal action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri is part of a lawsuit brought against the state that argues the new law, which took effect in August, violates the First Amendment and free speech rights of Tofurky and other companies that produce plant-based meat alternatives.
Violators of the law, a Class A misdemeanor, face possible $1 punishments including a one-year incarceration. The law allows the Missouri Department of Agriculture to refer violations to the state attorney general or county prosecutors.
“There is no evidence that these product terms and descriptors are misleading to consumers. Indeed, the Statute was intended not to protect consumers but instead to protect the state’s cattle, pork, and chicken industries,” according to the coalition’s lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday.
“The state of Missouri shouldn’t criminalize speech in order to privilege one set of producers over another,” Good Food Institute Executive Director Bruce Friedrich said in a statement. “The people of Missouri like free speech and free markets, and this law tramples on both. We’re convinced that it will not stand.”
The meat-labeling law is the first of its kind in the nation and has prompted major worries among companies that produce meat alternatives made from things like soy, tempeh and jackfruit, including those based in Missouri.
As The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in April, when a legislative meat-labeling measure was up for consideration in Jefferson City, a Missouri Cattlemen Association member Andy McCorkill testified: “Calling this product meat without knowing the inspection process, the nutrient profile of these products, food safety or anything is a disservice to farmers, ranchers and consumers. It is important these products don’t misrepresent our industry. We care for our livestock and invest a lot of time and money in ensuring the consumer has a safe, nutritious and affordable product.”
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.