Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Missouri law says fake meat should be labeled. How is that a free speech issue?

Will meat by any other name still appeal to consumers? A battle over whether fake meat must be labeled as such for consumers’ sake is intensifying, and a Missouri law sits squarely at the heart of the debate.

Last year, the state became the first in the nation to make it a criminal offense for businesses to misrepresent as meat a product that is not derived from livestock or poultry.

The law aims to limit confusion as consumers navigate grocery store aisles filled with a growing number of plant-based products and other meat alternatives that look a whole lot like traditional burgers, hot dogs, turkey and more. Violators face up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Tofurky, a vegetarian food company, advocacy group Good Food Institute, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri have filed suit, arguing that the First Amendment allows companies to label products as they see fit.

Free speech is not a license to mislead consumers. Missouri’s truth-in-advertising laws exists for a reason. If food is plant-based, companies should label it accordingly. No one should be left wondering what they’re consuming.

After months of negotiations, a settlement in the case appeared to be within reach earlier this year. Those talks stalled this month when attorneys from both sides told U.S. District Senior Judge Fernando Gaitan that they were unable to reach a final agreement.

The plaintiffs, citing a right to compete in the free market, had previously asked Gaitan to deem the law unconstitutional.

The impasse sets the stage for a lengthy legal fight, one that could have ramifications nationwide. Several states have followed Missouri’s lead in regulating packaging for meat alternatives


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