In March 2019, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas signed HB1407 into law, which imposes fines of up to $1,000 for plant-based foods and alternative meat products that are marketed in a similar fashion to real meat. The "truth in labeling" bill mirrors other state-level legislation passed in Missouri, Nebraska and Louisiana and provides food manufacturers with standardized labeling and packaging guidelines in the absence of clear federal rules. These regulatory efforts are part of a broader crackdown on plant-based food items that are advertised as "meat substitutes," a practice that many agricultural communities believe is misleading.
Arkansas' truth in labeling bill (commonly called Act 501) also targets other popular "alternative" food and beverage items, including almond milk, cauliflower rice and more. Marketing these products as "vegan" or "vegetarian" does not exempt food producers from potential fines, which many opponents believe is a clear civil rights violation. While Act 501 is scheduled to go into effect July 24, a recent joint lawsuit from the Tofurkey Company and the American Civil Liberties Union may cause some disruption for the bill moving forward.
New lawsuit challenges Arkansas' truth in labeling measures
According to a lawsuit filed July 22 by the ACLU, the Good Food Institute and the Animal League Defense Fund on behalf of Tofurky, Arkansas' proposed bill is a clear violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In particular, the complaint argues that Act 501 would circumvent existing due process protections by wrongfully censoring "truthful claims" on Tofurky's plant-based food items. The lawsuit also points out that all of Tofurky's products are explicitly labeled as meatless, vegetarian or vegan and that there is no evidence that their packaging or marketing misleads consumers.
"When consumers choose plant-based foods, it is not because they are confused or misled, it is because they are savvy and educated about the health and environmental consequences of eating animal products," said Jaime Athos, CEO of the Tofurky Company, in a written statement to NBC News.
Tofurky is known for its plant-based meat alternatives, including deli sausages, burgers, hot dogs and more. If allowed to stand, Act 501 would force the company to change all of its product labels and packaging, which could cost Tofurky thousands and may impact its branding efforts. This lawsuit represents a wider pushback on labeling regulations that seek to limit plant-based food providers' advertising capabilities.