JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri officials and a company that makes plant-based foods have scuttled their attempt to settle a lawsuit over a new labeling law targeting fake meat.
After more than five months of closed-door talks, attorneys for the company that makes Tofurky-brand products told U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan that the two sides have been unable to reach a final agreement.
“The parties communicated multiple times by telephone and by email but reached an impasse,” attorneys said.
The latest development could mean a potentially lengthy trial, keeping a 2018 law aimed at cracking down on how companies like Oregon-based Tofurky label their fake burgers, mock hot dogs and soy-based crumbles.
The law states that if a product isn’t derived from an actual cow, chicken, turkey or some other animal with two or four feet, it can’t be marketed as meat.
Supporters said the measure will protect ranchers, pork producers and the state’s chicken and turkey farmers.
The lawsuit, filed by Tofurky and the American Civil Liberties Union, alleged Missouri officials would be violating the free speech rights of plant-based meat manufacturers if the law was enforced.
The top official at Tofurky told the Post-Dispatch in December that the law could force them to stop distributing in the state.
Missouri has been at the forefront of a national effort by beef and farm groups to put laws on the books to make it illegal to label their plant- or lab-based products with words associated with meat.
Groups like the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association have clout under the Capitol dome with officials like Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who runs a cattle operation at his home in Bolivar.
At the same time, a study commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association found that sales of plant-based foods grew by 20% last year.
A federal lawsuit also is alleging Mississippi is violating free-speech rights by banning makers of plant-based foods from using terms such as “meatless meatballs” and “vegan bacon.”
The Good Food Institute, which also is involved in the Missouri litigation, says 12 states have enacted what it calls “meat label censorship” laws. In addition to Mississippi and Missouri, the states include Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming.
In Missouri, enforcement of the law has been in limbo since it went into effect in August. Records show Gaitan had prodded both sides repeatedly in recent months to reach an agreement.
“The parties are grateful for the court’s patience as they attempted to reach a final settlement agreement. Accordingly, the parties respectfully ask the court to resume the litigation,” attorneys noted.
It remained unclear Wednesday why the settlement talks were abandoned.
“All details of the settlement discussions are confidential,” said Matt Ball of the Good Food Institute.
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