Tofurky Wins Lawsuit Allowing Use of “Sausage” and “Burger” on Label
This week, Tofurky's vegan offerings were legitimized as "real" burgers and sausages. The Tofurky Company and other producers of plant-based meat products fought to use words including "burger" and "sausage," which were once relegated to beef, pork, and other animal protein.
Now, plant-based products can use these words on packaging. This comes after a landmark lawsuit brought in the State of Louisiana that took nearly two years of legal wrangling to settle. A judge in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ruled that the state's labeling law could not limit the use of the words "burger" and "sausage" to only refer to products that are made from animal-derived meat.
The original legislation went into effect on October 1, 2020, seeking to protect animal agriculture industries within the state of Louisiana. The law imposed up to a $500 fine per day for companies that labeled plant-based products with “burger” and “sausage,” regardless of if the package clearly stated the ingredients to be vegan. Tofurky filed a lawsuit against the State of Louisiana on October 7, 2020, with the help of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the Good Food Institute (GFI).
“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,” ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a statement. “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.”
Tofurky’s legal team challenged the Louisiana legislation, claiming that it opposed First Amendment rights by improperly censoring the truth. Sponsored by Representative Francis Thompson, the law intended to protect animal-based Louisiana agriculture from growing competition emerging from the plant-based and cultivated meat sectors. While noting the dangers of this form of legislation Tofurky and the company’s legal backers also recognized the benefit of helping transition to a unified, sustainable food system to reduce the fear of competition.
“The Court reached the right decision in finding that Louisiana’s law unconstitutionally restricts speech,” GFI Lead Regulatory Counsel Laura Braden said in a statement. “Louisiana consumers deserve better than being patronized by lawmakers who want to control what they buy. Consumers are not confusing veggie burgers for beef burgers when labels clearly indicate the products are plant-based, meatless, vegetarian, or vegan, and it insults their intelligence to suggest otherwise.
“Laws like this are regrettable and should be struck down given what’s at stake: a more sustainable food system that works for everyone — farmers, food companies, consumers, and entire communities.”
New Standard for Vegan Meat Labels
Despite challenges and pushback presented by animal agriculture giants, the plant-based meat market is experiencing unprecedented public acceptance – with some reports claiming that 62 percent of U.S. households now regularly purchase plant-based products. But the growing popularity has worried the major meat players worldwide. Another report even predicted that plant-based protein will become cheaper than traditional beef as soon as 2023, making plant-based meat products more accessible to people everywhere.
With increasing competition, several states have introduced similar laws to Louisiana’s labeling restriction. Now, Tofurky – along with the continued support from GFI and ALDF – plans to challenge these restrictive labeling regulations. In 2019, the organizations filed a complaint against a comparable law in Arkansas and a federal court similarly stopped the enforcement.
“The Louisiana court has seen right through the disingenuous pretext under which this law was passed, and rightfully intervened to protect the First Amendment rights of companies like Tofurky and the rights of Louisianans to have unfettered access to the healthier, more sustainable foods of their choosing,” President and CEO of Tofurky Jaime Athos said in a statement.
“The law was an obvious attempt to give an unfair advantage to animal agriculture interests by stifling the growth of plant-based food sales, and this ruling serves as a warning to other state legislatures who may forget that they are elected to serve the needs of their constituents, not those of corporate special interests.”
Plant-Based Dairy’s Battle For Labels
Last summer, vegan dairy brand Miyoko’s Creamery won a similar lawsuit against the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The suit determined that plant-based dairy products could legally use the terms “butter” and “dairy” on products without legal repercussions. Also helped by the ALDF, Miyoko’s Creamery set a new precedent for the labeling laws within the United States, helping the entire plant-based alternative industry.
Now, Tofurky is celebrating its win for sustainability and plant-based industries. Alongside Miyoko’s Creamery, these vegan brands and organizations intend to place vegan foods at the forefront despite big companies’ attempts to jeopardize their marketing ability.
“Consumers are not confused — they are actively and thoughtfully choosing plant-based burgers, hot dogs, sausages, and cheese because they’re better choices for the future of our planet,” Athos said. “Our fight to overturn this unconstitutional labeling censorship law has been a long journey, but today marks a moment of progress and a meaningful stride in the right direction.”