Federal Court’s Refusal to Issue Injunction is Appealed as Plaintiffs Continue First Amendment Challenge Against Missouri’s Meat Labeling Laws
Missouri was the first among many states, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming, to enact laws restricting plant-based and cell-cultured products from being labeled as “meat.” As reported here, Turtle Island Foods (Tofurkey brand), in conjunction with non-profit advocacy groups, filed a lawsuit on August 28, 2018, which is the date Missouri’s law took effect, alleging First Amendment violations. The plaintiffs requested a preliminary injunction on October 30, 2018. Before a ruling was made on the injunction request, litigation was suspended for negotiations but then resumed in July 2019 after settlement discussions failed.
AP News reported on October 4, 2019 that U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. of the Western District of Missouri denied the request for a preliminary injunction because Tofurkey will not be affected by the law in question. Specifically, as Missouri is not expected to prosecute where a non-meat product label using a defined “meat” term also bears a qualifier, such as “vegetarian,” “plant-based,” or “cell-based,” the Judge found there is no risk of prosecution for the plaintiff and no burden from having to change labels because the current labels disclose that Tofurkey products are plant-based. A reported statement from Jessica Almy, an attorney in the case and the Director of Good Food Institute (GFI), a co-plaintiff, however, indicates that GFI has appealed the ruling. In contrast, other plaintiffs in a similar situation will consider dropping a lawsuit in Mississippi upon adoption of a proposed regulation permitting “meat” terms in that state on labels that also use qualifiers.
In addition to plant-based products that are the subject of ongoing litigation in Missouri and other states, cell-based products derived from muscle tissue cultured in vitro from animal cells are also targeted by states’ meat labeling laws. Cell-based products remain in the research and development phase and, thus, are not truly represented in the current litigation against state meat labeling laws. It is likely, however, that yet-to-be developed federal labeling regulations will ultimately preempt the state laws. In this regard, we have reported that five cell-based meat and seafood companies have formed a coalition to represent the industry’s interest amidst regulatory uncertainty.