Opinion: Tofurky played by Missouri states attorney … but who will get the last laugh?

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Meeting-of-the-minds: assent to the mutually agreed upon and understood terms of an agreement by the parties to a contract that may be manifest by objective signs of intent (as conduct). - Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The Tofurky Company (Turtle Island Foods SPC) thought it was going to reach a meeting (meating?) of the minds in its labeling lawsuit with Missouri Coles County prosecuting attorney Mark Richardson over the naming of its plant based products. 

As I blogged last March, the Missouri state attorney general announced it had reached a compromise with Tofurky with release of the particulars imminent.

Certainly that had to be a relief to Tofurky, which offers vegetarian and vegan alternatives to meat with product names like plant-based organic sausage, ham-style roast, slow-roasted chick'n and chorizo crumbles.

Tofurky was suing Missouri over its first-in-the-nation state law banning labeling products with meat names if it doesn't contain traditionally harvested poultry or livestock.

Conviction of the law is a class A misdemeanor with potential fines of $1,000 and/or up to a year in the state slammer.

Well now we learn that there was never really a meeting of the minds and Missouri attorneys were blowing smoke.

For its part, Tofurky is restarting its litigation with Missouri and has filed a new lawsuit, this time naming as defendant Nikhil Soman, in his official capacity as Director of the Arkansas Bureau of Standards.  

That lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of an Arkansas state law prohibiting labeling plant based meat alternatives as hot dogs or burgers.

First up for the courts is to rule on Tofurkey's motion seeking a preliminary injunction against Missouri from prosecuting under its meat labeling law. 

Meanwhile, the Missouri Department of Agriculture has issued guidelines on how to avoid criminal prosecution by including “veggie” or “plant based” on package labels.

I suspect that was the “Missouri compromise” being floated by the state's attorney general office. 

And I'm sure that would have fallen on deaf Tofurky ears given the company's First Amendment augments about stifling free speech. 

Good Food Institute is a plaintiff along with Tofurky.

GFI director of policy Jessica Almy is blunt:

“The fact that this law is on the books poses a risk to companies doing business there...We argue that this law violates the fundamental right to free speech.  It doesn't matter whether you care about veggie burgers, the question is whether the state should have the power to violate the First Amendment – just because legislators think you ought to eat beef.”

As many as 25 states have already introduced bills preventing plant-based food companies from labeling their products with meat names.  Tofurky is also seeking certification of defense class status in its case, presumably to band together with other plant-based companies to push the issue to the Supreme Court.  

Livestock producers don't want Tofurky and like-minded companies cutting into its billions and will certainly go to the mat to stall growth in the plant based industry.

About Dave Dickey

Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for the Midwest Center covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.