Federal Judge Blocks Louisiana Labeling Law
At the end of March, U.S. federal Judge Brian A. Jackson issued a decision in Turtle Island Foods v. Strain, which blocked a Louisiana labeling law for violation of commercial free speech guarantees. Judge Jackson concluded that the Louisiana labeling law encroached on protected commercial speech with its extensive list of prohibited language. Commercial speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution, but the protection is more limited than other forms of speech. When a complaint is filed for violation of commercial free speech, the party seeking to uphold the speech restriction must demonstrate that the government has a legitimate interest in restricting particular types of commercial speech, and the subject law or regulation is the least restrictive manner to regulate such speech.
In June 2019, the Louisiana Legislature passed the “Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act.” The Act prohibited labeling that misrepresents a food product as an agricultural product. In particular, the Act applied to a range of agricultural products, including, but not limited to meat. The Act provided definitions for, and restricted the use of terms like “meat,” “beef,” “pork,” “poultry,” and “rice.” Notably, the law prohibited plant-based products from using the term “meat,” non-rice products from using the term “rice,” and sugar alternatives from using the term “sugar.” The Act also preemptively prohibited cell-cultured meat by excluding the term from the definition of “meat.”
The Act became effective on October 1, 2020, and Turtle foods filed a complaint less than a week later. The company based its complaint on First Amendment freedom of speech guarantees, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The company also alleged that the purpose of the Act was to prohibit “current and intended speech.” Although Louisiana has not taken any enforcement action against food producers, Judge Jackson concluded that the risk of enforcement is substantial. The law provides that violators may be fined $500 per day, per offense.