Lawsuit Asks, 'What Is Meat'?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 29, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

They don't make hamburgers like they used to, and that's the beef in a new lawsuit.

In Turtle Island Foods v. Richardson, a meat-substitute company is suing over a Missouri law that prohibits advertising "meat" products unless they come from livestock or poultry. The statute carries penalties up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The company makes plant-based substitutes for meat from soy, wheat, vegetable protein and other ingredients. For the cattle industry, however, it's like the Wendy's lady said: "Where's the beef?"

Where's the Beef?

The Missouri Cattlemen's Association kicked up the controversy by proposing the law to state Senator Sandy Crawford. The proposal made it into an agriculture bill, and went into effect this week.

The plaintiffs, including the Tofurky Company and the Good Food Institute, allege the statute violates their rights to due process and commercial speech. They say it "criminalizes truthful speech."

"Americans don't like censorship, and they don't like the government picking winners and losers in the marketplace," Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, told Courthouse News.

The plaintiffs say they distinguish their products from meat in marketing and packaging. They have a similar texture, flavor and appearance like meat, but the complaint says they do not mislead customers.

Meat Marketplace

After the legal filing, the Animal Legal Defense Fund weighed in on the issue. Executive Director Stephen Wells said Missouri was "putting its thumb on the scale to unfairly benefit the meat industry and silence alternative producers."

Mark Deering, with the Cattlemen's Association, said the "traditional nomenclature on alternative products is confusing." He said it also weakens the value of products derived from actual livestock products.

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