That anticipated out-of-court settlement between Missouri and Turtle Island Foods is not happening.
The many parties involved “do not believe additional time will allow for resolution of the impasse, according to their July status report to the federal court for the Western District of Missouri.
Instead, those involved in the dispute want to resume the litigation that began in August 2018 when Missouri’s first-in-the-nation law against “misrepresenting” product as meat if it consists of something not derived from traditionally harvested livestock or poultry.
If convicted for such misrepresentation, the Class A misdemeanor includes incarceration in jail for up to one year, a $1,000 fine, or both as punishment.
The day after the Missouri law took effect, Turtle Island Foods in Hood River, OR, sued Missouri and state prosecutors. Four decades old, Turtle Island Foods is a meatless business, offering vegetarian and vegan alternatives.
The Turtle Island Foods federal 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. “Plant-Based” is also used on some of its packages.
Other Plaintiffs on the side of the small Oregon veggie business include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, and the Good Food Institute. When they sued, they said the Missouri law infringes on freedom of speech and is anticompetitive.
The Plaintiffs point to the rhetoric surrounding the law when the Missouri Legislature adopted it. “We wanted to protect our cattlemen in Missouri and protect our beef brand.,” Republican State Sen. Sandy Crawford, reportedly said.
Plant-based meat substitutes are not new, but product improvements have helped grow their sales to around $1.5 billion per year. Lab-grown meat alternatives are not yet commercially viable but might be soon.
Until a lab-grown or cell-cultured alternative meat product scales up production, questions likely will remain about the food safety of these new creations. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and HHS’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will both regulate the products.
While the settlement talks went on, one state after another joined Missouri’s “fake meat” ban or petitioned Congress to solve the problem through federal labeling laws.
Next up, in U.S. District Court for Missouri’s Western District are hearings on the Plaintiff’s motions for a preliminary injunction and certification of defense class. The action for a preliminary injunction has been laying around since late 2018. In it, the Plaintiff organizations say they face irreparable harms from being forced to choose whether to risk criminal prosecution or change their business model.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, has issued guidance to plant-based and cell-based food producers on how to modify labels to avoid criminal proceedings. MDA also said it does not plan to refer products for prosecution where words like “veggie” or “plant-based” are prominent on the packaging.
“Tofurky and the institute claimed that this statute, far from requiring plant-based or lab-grown meats to be labeled as plant-based or lab-grown meat, actually prohibits labeling plant-based or lab-grown products as a meat product even if its label says that it is plant-based or lab-grown,” says Missouri’s attorneys. “Neither the Department nor any prosecutor intends to enforce the statute against such truthful labels.”
According to court documents, defense certification would unite state and county prosecutors going forward. “Because the named Cole County prosecutor declined to defend the constitutionality of this state law, the State of Missouri intervened for that limited purpose, while reserving its sovereign immunity, Missouri’s assistant attorney general explained in a brief opposing the preliminary injunction.
The Western District federal court has yet to schedule anything since the “Missouri Compromise” fell off the table.
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