JEFFERSON CITY — In a win for cattle ranchers, pig farmers and poultry producers, a federal judge has declined to block a Missouri law targeting fake meat.
In a 15-page decision issued last week, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. said he would not issue a preliminary injunction to bar Missouri agriculture officials from enforcing a law requiring companies selling veggie-based meat substitutes to label their products as plant-based or laboratory-grown.
Turtle Island Foods, which produces the Tofurky brand of products, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Good Food Institute appealed the decision Wednesday.
Missouri lawmakers approved the new law in 2018 as part of a package of changes to state agriculture and conservation laws. The meat provision 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.
Former Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, signed it into law.
In arguing for its passage, supporters said the measure will protect ranchers, pork producers and the state’s chicken and turkey farmers from a rise in popularity of products like the Impossible Burger, which is made primarily of soy protein.
The law gives the Missouri Department of Agriculture the ability to investigate and refer potential labeling violations to the Attorney General’s office or a county prosecutor.
The groups say the law violates their First Amendment right to free speech, but Gaitan wrote that Tofurky would not be affected by the law because its labels truthfully disclose that their products are plant-based or lab-grown.
“Thus, plaintiffs have not shown that they are at any risk of either prosecution for violating the statute or that there is any need to change their labels or advocacy efforts,” the judge said.
The decision comes after settlement talks broke down in July. The two sides had reached a tentative agreement last year, but were not able to come to a final resolution.
Missouri is not alone in facing a lawsuit over the labeling restrictions.
The coalition earlier this year sued Arkansas saying a law there also censors speech. A Mississippi law also is in litigation. Other states with labeling laws include Montana, South Dakota, Louisiana and Wyoming.