Federal Judge Halts Arkansas from Enforcing Meat-Labeling Law

Growing debate in consumer circles and in courtrooms over what's defined as meat ( MGN )

A federal judge prevented Arkansas from enforcing a law that bans using terms such as "burger" or "sausage" to sell vegetarian and vegan products.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted a preliminary injunction preventing Arkansas from enforcing this state agricultural law alternately described as the “truth in labeling” law against Oregon-based Torfurky Co. while its constitutionality is being challenged. Tofurky produces tofu, quinoa and other plant-based sausages, deli slices and burgers.

In July, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Good Food Institute and the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued on behalf of Torfurky Co., arguing that the law is an unconstitutional effort to shore up the state's meat and other industries, the Associated Press reports. 

The Arkansas law was enacted earlier this year and prohibits labeling a product as meat, rice, beef or pork, as well as any term "that has been used or defined historically in reference to a specific agricultural product." Companies can be fined up to $1,000 per violation. The law also prohibits companies from labeling vegetables as "rice." 

The law is similar to labeling laws recently passed in several other states, including Mississippi, Louisiana and South Dakota, the AP reports.

Although Arkansas has not taken steps to enforce the law because of the lawsuit, Tofurky Co. faces a credible threat of retroactive penalties, the judge said. She wrote that the public interest weighs in favor of a preliminary injunction while the label law’s constitutionality is determined.

Tofurky estimated that changing its marketing and packaging practices nationwide to comply with the Arkansas law would cost nearly $1 million.

A spokeswoman said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was disappointed by the decision and is determining next steps, the AP reports.

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