⋅ BY LESLEY DIXON ⋅
A recent decision by a Louisiana appellate court to uphold the state’s “Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act” has been hailed as a victory for consumers and the agriculture industry. The 3-0 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was made in response to a constitutional challenge by plant-based meat substitute company Tofurky, which argued that the law violated its First Amendment rights to free speech.
The Louisiana law applied to a range of agricultural products, providing definitions for terms like “meat,” “beef,” “pork,” “poultry,” and “rice.” It prohibited plant-based products from being called meat, non-rice products from being called rice, and sugar alternatives from being called sugar. Proponents of the law argue that it helps to prevent confusion and misrepresentation, while opponents claim that it is overly restrictive and limits consumer choice.
In 2020, Tofurky brought a lawsuit against the Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry in Louisiana, claiming that it operated under a continuous threat of enforcement due to the state’s food labeling law. At that time, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana sided with Tofurky and ruled that the company had standing to challenge the law, which it deemed to be an unconstitutional restriction on Tofurky’s right to free speech. The state subsequently appealed the ruling.
On April 12, the court found that the law did not violate Tofurky’s First Amendment rights, as it did not prevent the company from using terms like “burger” or “sausage” on its packaging. Instead, the court noted that the law simply required the company to use additional clarifying language, such as “plant-based” or “veggie.” The ruling has been seen as a victory for the agriculture industry and will help ensure that these products are not unfairly marketed or labeled in a way that could mislead consumers.
While opponents of the law have argued that it is overly restrictive and limits consumer choice, supporters argue that it is a necessary step towards ensuring that the food industry operates with integrity and transparency as the demand for various food substitutes continues to grow.
“We are pleased with the recent decision by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the state’s Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act, the purpose of which is to protect consumers from the intentional misbranding or misrepresenting of any food product as an agricultural product,” said Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Dr. Mike Strain.
“The rice industry has been fighting against misleadingly labeled rice pretenders in the market for many years,” said Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president of marketing & domestic promotion. “There’s room for all these products in the market, but they should be called what they are to ensure consumers are able to make informed choices about the food they purchase.”