Missouri may weather storm over law prohibiting meat label on plant-based products, attorney says

By John Breslin | Nov 26, 2018

Missouri has found itself thrust into part of a contentious national debate over whether plant-based foods can be marketed or packaged as an alternative to meat.

Oregon-headquartered Tofurkey, which sells what it calls vegetarian sausages and roasts, is suing the state in federal court after the recent enactment of a law introducing criminal penalties for "misrepresenting" a product as "meat" if it is not livestock- or poultry-based, an article posted on newstribune.com said. Tofurkey filed the suit along with Washington D.C.-based nonprofit The Good Food Institute, which supports wider consumer access to plant-based products as an alternative to meat. 

"The statute criminalizes truthful speech by prohibiting 'misrepresenting' a product as 'meat' if that product is 'not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry,'” the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, said. The plaintiffs most recently asked the judge to issue an interim injunction stopping the state from implementing the law.

Violators can be jailed for one year and faces fines of up to $1,000. The lawsuit names Mark Richardson, the Cole County prosecuting attorney, on behalf of all the state's prosecutors..


Todd Graves  

But the state could have a strong case on the grounds that the central question to be considered by the court would be whether this is a "correct legislative use of government authority," Todd Graves, an attorney with the Kansas City-based firm of Graves Garrett, told the St. Louis Record.

Graves suggested that the federal court may be loathe to question the state's right to legislate, particularly as there is precedent on labeling what can be described as organic,

"Considering the precedent, I think the government will win," he said

The lawsuit, in which Tofurky claims the new law, which took effect Aug, 28, is a direct attack on its constitutional free speech rights, is one of only several brewing battles, both in the courts and the legislature, over the labeling of plant-based alternative products.

In South Carolina, legislators this year attempted to ban the use of the word "milk" on packaging of products that did not derive from livestock.

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