US court suspends naming restrictions on fake meat firms

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A United States (US) court has suspended a law banning makers of vegetarian substitute meals from using the word “meat” to describe their products, as trendy plant-based food companies push back against a wave of restrictions.

Livestock farmers have seen the rise of meat substitutes as a threat to their bottom line, and have successfully pushed for labelling restrictions in several states.

The southern state of Arkansas introduced a law in July that fined manufacturers USD1,000 per violation for using words like “sausage”, “roast” or “burger” to describe vegetarian or vegan food, even if packaging clearly shows the products are plant-based.

Tofurky, a maker of turkey-flavoured tofu snacks, filed a complaint the same month, saying the law infringed on its constitutional right to freedom of speech.

A federal court in state capital Little Rock sided with Tofurky on Wednesday and agreed to temporarily suspend the law ahead of further hearings.

“Tofurky has satisfied the Court that it will likely suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction,” said judge Kristine Baker.

Legal challenges against similar laws in Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana are also underway, spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), vegetarian advocacy group the Good Food Institute and animal rights activists.

“We’re glad the court blocked the state’s blatantly unconstitutional effort to stifle competition by censoring speech,” ACLU lawyer Brian Hauss said after the ruling.

Sales of meat alternatives in the US rose 23 per cent last year on the back of concerns about the environment, animal welfare and personal health, according to the Good Food Institute.

Burger King has offered a veggie version of their classic ‘Whopper’ sandwich in the US since April, made with a plant-based burger patty the chain said tastes just as good as the original.

Burger King has offered a vegetarian version of their iconic Whopper burger since April 2019. PHOTO: AFP