Tofurky is suing Louisiana for the right to label its veggie burgers “veggie burgers”

“As of October 1, a new law in Louisiana bans grocery stores from calling veggie burgers “veggie burgers,” as well as many similar product labels like “plant-based sausages” or “seitan-based vegan bacon.”

The justification? That consumers might get confused about whether veggie burgers are made of beef. It’s the latest of a series of attempts by meat companies to ban their plant-based competitors from grocery store shelves — and many legal experts say it’s probably unconstitutional.”

“Last year, Arkansas tried a nearly identical law, and Tofurky sued. A judge issued an injunction a few months later, finding that the law violated the free-speech protections of the US Constitution and telling Arkansas it may not enforce the law while the case proceeds through the courts. Mississippi tried a similar law, too, and backed down, promising to revise it, when sued. That didn’t stop Louisiana from proceeding with its own, nearly identical law, but it is likely no more constitutional than the Arkansas or Mississippi ones.

Why are we fighting about Tofurky? There are no indications that consumers are confused about whether veggie burgers are made out of meat. But as plant-based products get more popular, these labeling laws are one of the meat industry’s favorite tools to fight back — even though courts keep on soundly rejecting them.”

“The First Amendment can be applied to commercial speech — though the law is a bit complicated. In the 1940s, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that there were no First Amendment protections for purely commercial speech. By the 1970s, the Court had reconsidered that and overturned it in 1976.

In 1980, the Court supplied the rules for First Amendment protections on commercial speech that are still applied today. Those rules are called the “Central Hudson” test because they were laid out in Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission.

Here are the rules: First, commercial speech “must concern lawful activity and not be misleading.” Supporters of Louisiana’s law might argue that the term “almond milk” is misleading, while opponents argue that consumers know perfectly well what almond milk is — that, as Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) put it, “No one buys almond milk under the false illusion that it came from a cow. They buy almond milk because it didn’t come from a cow.”

“There’s nothing misleading about the name of a veggie burger, or vegan hot dog, or seitan bacon,” Jessica Almy, an attorney and director of policy at the Good Food Institute, told me when we spoke about a similar Missouri case. “The packages clearly disclose that this is plant-based food that has the taste or texture of this familiar food.”

“There is not one consumer complaint to the AG’s office ever filed,” Amanda Howell, co-counsel on the Louisiana case, told me. “All plant-based products I’ve seen are doing their best to make sure consumers know that they’re plant-based.”

Even if the speech concerns lawful activity and is not misleading, the government can still regulate it. But it has to meet the following standards: The government must have a “substantial interest” at stake, the regulation must “directly and materially advance the government’s substantial interest,” and “the regulation must be narrowly tailored.””