Federal judge blocks Louisiana law regulating meat substitute labels

New Ruling: Makers of tofurkey and other

plant-based foods need not comply with a

state law imposing fines of $500 a day for

using words like 'burger on their food labels

BY SABRINA CANFIELD, Contributing Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (COURTHOUSE NEWS) — Louisiana consumers interested in a vegetarian take on turkey will not be confused by the labeling and think it contains an animal product, a federal judge ruled.

The decision means the brand Tofurky won’t be in danger of a $500 a day fine for creating consumer confusion in the labeling of its product tofurkey, a vegan turkey substitute.

Turtle Island Foods, the owner of the Tofurky brand name, brought a lawsuit against state regulators in 2020, preemptively challenging a new state statute requiring plant-based food products to use descriptions other than those commonly used for meat products.

In a 20-page ruling Monday, Us District Judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge halted enforcement of the law. He said the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry “has failed to address why alternative, less-restrictive means, such as a disclaimer, would not accomplish its goal of preventing consumer confusion.”

“Here, Defendant’s general argument that the Act does not prohibit Plaintiffs commercial speech, but only prohibits other misleading speech is not enough to bear its burden,” wrote Jackson, an Obama appointee. “Defendant has ‘failed to satisfy the required burden of demonstrating a reasonable fit between its regulation and the constitutionally-protected speech.’ Accordingly, the Act is an impermissible restriction on Plaintiffs commercial speech.”

Jaime Athos, president and CEO of Tofurky Company, called the decision “a victory for the entire plant-based industry.”

“The Louisiana court has seen right through the disingenuous pretext under which this law was passed, and rightfully intervened to protect the First Amendment rights of companies like Tofurky and the rights of Louisianans to have unfettered access to the healthier, more sustainable foods of their choosing,” Athos said in a statement.  

Louisiana’s Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act, also known as Act 273, took effect in October 2020 and prohibits companies from using meat-related labeling terms on food not containing meat products, even when the product labels include terms such as “vegan” or “plant-based.”

Turtle Island’s lawsuit said the rule, which had only just gone into effect at the time the complaint was filed, would have prevented Tofurky from selling its product in Louisiana because relabeling and repackaging would have been too costly.

“The Act imposes sweeping restrictions on commercial speech,” the complaint states. “It prohibits companies from sharing truthful and non-misleading information about their products while doing nothing to protect the public from any conceivable harm.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long required that food producers truthfully label the nature and contents of their products using common or usual terms. Tofurky says terms like “veggie burger” accurately inform consumers how plant-based products can be served and what they taste like.

The animal agriculture industry has suggested plant-based products should have to use terms like “veggie pucks” instead of “veggie burger” and “vegan tubes” instead of “vegan hot dogs.” The state law at issue barred plant-based products from using words like “burgers,” “hot dogs” and “sausages.”

Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which represented Tofurky along with the Good Food Institute, said in a statement after the ruling that companies are entitled under the First Amendment to “market and label their products in truthful ways that consumers will recognize and that aligns with their values.”

“Louisiana’s labeling law was a clear and unconstitutional attempt to protect the animal agriculture industry from competition amidst the growing market for foods not derived from slaughtered or confined animals, which don’t carry the same risks to human health, animals, and the environment,” Wells said.

Francis Thompson, a Democratic state representative who introduced Act 273 when he was a state senator, old New Orleans’ CBS affiliate WWL-TV in 2019 that while most of the “fake” products representing themselves as meat and dairy substitutes are not made in Louisiana, there isn’t any reason they should be outlawed altogether. Instead, they should just be forced to be upfront about what the products contain, he said.

“We are not trying to stop anyone in the industry from selling their products, we just don’t want them to put a label that is not true,” Thompson said.

Thompson did not immediately reply to an email asking for comment. The Louisiana law is similar to food-labeling statutes passed in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi and other states. A number of those laws are also being challenged by Tofurky, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Good Food Institute. A judge in Arkansas halted enforcement of that state’s law in December 2019, finding it was likely an unconstitutional restriction on Tofurky’s right to free speech.


Art's Famous Chili Dogs


Hangs up the buns after 80 years

LOS ANGELES (MNS) – After a run of 80 years, Art’s Famous Chili Dogs in South LA has hung up the buns. But not before one customer who had been coaxed to try one of the eatery’s chili dogs for years finally relented.


“For year’s my dad and my brother been telling us to come try it out,” Brianna Guzman told KABC News. “So, this is the first time and I’m just sad about it. It was really good.”


Guzman chowed down on the Jumbo Chili Dog, immediately realizing after the first bite what she’d missed all these years. Sadly, she wouldn’t be able to return.


Christopher Oliver said he grew up in the neighborhood and has been a customer of Art's Famous Chili Dog Stand for over three decades.


“Sorry to hear that it’s not going to be in business anymore. It really hurts, it really hurts my heart,” Oliver told KABC. “Now I’ve got to go back and explain to my kids, this is my last chili dog.”


Art’s Famous Chili Dogs, was a familiar sight at1410 W. Florence Ave. for 80 years, founded in 1939 by frankfurter entrepreneur, Art Elkind, who was its owner until 1990. After Elkind passed, Darrell Nelms bought it in 1994, remodeled it and kept the popular spot operative until March 8, 2020. Nelms’ daughters Fallon and Naijah Nelms co-owned the stand with their mother.

“This was our father’s dream" to own and operate the chili dog grill, Fallon said of Darrell, who himself passed in 2018. 
Fallon told KABC of she and Naijah’s valiant effort to keep the chili dog stand open, but in recent years haven’t been able to attract enough foot traffic to justify keeping the doors open, 80 years ago, Elkind sold the dogs for only 10 cents.


Looking back four decades


A chemical engineer, Elkind turned to selling hot dogs when unable to find work during the Great Depression. He opened the joint two miles west of its current location at Florence and Normandie Avenues. Elkind claims to have invented the chili dog when he was selling hot dogs and chili from a pushcart when someone suggested that he combine the two (other hot dog vendors have disputed this legend).  He did, however, invent his own hot dog steamer, which kept all of hot dog’s ingredients at the same temperature, and for using a hot dog which was only part pork and had no natural casing, which contributed to his chili dogs’ unique flavor.


This stand quickly became well-known for its chili dogs and also for the personality of Elkind. He was described as a classic New Yorker, who was tough on the outside but kind on the inside.

Elkind died of a heart attack in October 1990.  

Metropolis News Service.