Fake Meat, Real Meat Companies Fight Over 'Veggie Bacon'
- Arkansas last week became the latest state to bar manufacturers of "alternative" meat from using terms like "veggie bacon" and "cauliflower rice."
- But meat substitute companies are fighting back, arguing that such regulations violate free speech and give unfair advantage to meat, rice and other agriculture companies.
- Backers of more restrictive labeling argue that such laws help consumers understand what they're eating.
A fierce constitutional fight is under way over how to label "veggie bacon" and other food items that use meat substitutes. The legal battle pits leading purveyors from the rapidly emerging fake meat industry, flanked by civil liberties advocates, against a number of U.S. states and agriculture industry interests.
In the latest skirmish, alternative meat manufacturer Tofurky last week sued Arkansas for passing a new labeling law that bars makers of plant-based food from using terms like veggie bacon, "cauliflower rice" and "almond milk." The Oregon company, which is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, Animal League Defense Fund and Good Food Institute in the case, said in its complaint that the law infringes on free-speech liberties and unfairly protects the state's meat and rice industries. The law took effect last Wednesday.
Civil liberties lawyers argue that the law is "unconstitutionally vague," encouraging arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Supporters of alternative foods also say it prevents consumers from getting truthful information about products.
"Consumers need to know what the product is a substitute for," Holly Dickson, legal director at the ACLU of Arkansas, told CBS MoneyWatch. "If the company says this is 'savory plant-based protein,' that does not convey the same information as 'veggie bacon.'"
A spokesperson for the Arkansas Bureau of Standards, a division of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture charged with enforcing the law, declined to comment, saying the state agency is reviewing the complaint.
Truth in labeling?
The Arkansas case is the third lawsuit in the past year filed by plant-based advocates against a state for labeling law restrictions. The Plant Based Foods Association, an industry trade group, and Illinois alternative meat maker Upton's Naturals, while Tofurky and the ACLU also filed suit against Missouri last year .
Across the U.S., a dozen states in the past year have passed laws barring alternative food companies from using "meat" in labels. Such restrictions have nothing to do with better labeling for consumers and everything to do with meat and poultry companies trying to thwart competitors, executives of plant food companies contend.
"These are just extra rules for our industry, because it's just exploding right now," Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos told CBS MoneyWatch. "I think there are appropriate ways to respond to competitive pressures and there are inappropriate ways to respond to competitive pressures."