Attorneys have again told federal Judge Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr that they have a “tentative settlement” in the Turtle Island Foods versus Missouri case, but they say they need more time in mediation to work on “final language and approval of necessary officials.”

Turtle Island Foods v. Missouri is the challenge by Turtle Island Foods in U.S. District Court for Western Missouri over the state’s 2018 prohibition for using meat and meat-like terms for plant-based or lab-grown competitors.
Judge Gaitan has ordered the parties in the case to either file a stipulation of dismissal of the case or provide the court with details of the settlement before April 1.

ACLU of Missouri Foundation attorney Anthony E. Rothert, representing Turtle Foods, and Deputy Missouri Solicitor General Julie Marie Blake, representing state Attorney General Joshua D. Hawley, are the negotiators in the tentative settlement. Assistant AG Peter A. Houser is assisting Blake.

Turtle Island Foods produces Tofurky brand products. It is joined by The Good Food Institute, a non-governmental organization that promotes a vision of meat alternatives replacing the need for animal agriculture.
When Turtle island’s complaint was filed in federal court last August just as the new Missouri law was taking effect, it seemed that a “battle royal” was in the works. The complaint sought both declaratory and injunctive relief under a civil rights action.

And the AG responded last December, it answered to the complaint with language pointing to a strategy of not giving an inch to the Plaintiffs. To all but the most minor of statements in the Plaintiff’s brief, the Missouri AG’s response was: “The State is without sufficient knowledge or information to form a belief as to the truth of the allegationsa…and, therefore, denies the same.”

As 2019 got underway, anyone without insider knowledge of the case would have assumed a negotiated settlement wasn’t at all likely. But by the end of January, the parties announced the tentative settlement and said details would be made public in early March.

The only thing that changed is that it is taking a little longer.

The Turtle Island Foods complaint includes copies of Tofurky brand products. It asserts a commercial free speech right to use “meat” words like Burger, Sausage, and Hot Dog as Veggie Burger, Chorizo Style Sausage, and Plant-based Hot Dogs.  The term “Plant-Based” is prominent on several of its packages.

A compromise or settlement in Missouri, however, is not slowing down a campaign against “fake meat” labeling in other states.  A few examples:

  • In South Dakota, the “misbranding” legislation passed the Senate on a 33-to 0 vote last week and is expected to sail through the 70-member House of Representatives this week.
  • Also last week, the Mississippi House voted 117-to-0 in favor of Senate Bill 2922, prohibiting the labeling of animal cultures, plants or insects. SB 2922, which earlier passed the Senate, is now on the governor’s desk.
  • A Washington State bill comes down the hardest on lab-grown meat. It would make it a crime to sell the product and bar state funds from being used in the research.

While plant-based meat substitutes are not new, product improvement has helped grow their sales to the $1.5 billion range. Lab-grown meat, however, for now, remains in the laboratory. Cultured meat may be the future, but it isn’t yet available in supermarkets and restaurants.

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