Missouri was the state where for a time it seemed a compromise was possible on labeling real and artificial meat. But that “Missouri compromise” fell through and now U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. has come down on the “real meat” side.

The trial court judge has ruled against the veggie meat plaintiffs including Turtle Island Foods, the Good Food Institute, and the American Civil Liberties Union by denying their request for a preliminary injunction to prevent Missouri from enforcing its labeling law. The plaintiffs filed an appeal, but the judge’s ruling means the Missouri law will remain in force while all the litigation goes forward.

Among other states that have followed Missouri with labeling laws they say are necessary if consumers are going to be able to sort of real and alternative meat are Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Louisiana, and Wyoming.

Earlier in the year, it appeared that the Missouri labeling dispute would end in a compromise, but not all the parties involved would agree and the result is more challenges are being brought at the state level. 

Missouri’s law grants the state Department of Agriculture the authority to investigate and refer potentially labeling violations to the Attorney General or local county prosecutor for enforcement.

In his ruling, the federal judge said Turtle Island Foods’ Tofurkey products would be affected by the Missouri law because they already truthfully disclose that the products do not contain real meat.

“Thus, the Court finds that plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on their First Amendment claim as applied to them because the statute only prohibits speech which would be misleading and this is a permissible government restriction,” the district court ruling says. “Additionally, the state argues that plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on a facial challenge to the statute. A facial challenge ‘must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid.’

“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.

Missouri’s labeling law coincides with 2019, which has turned out to be the year of the plant-based burger. These include the Impossible Burger, the Beyond Burger, and MorningStar Farms Meat Lovers Vegan Burger.  These plant-based products claim to look and taste like real beef burgers.

The federal district judge does not see the Missouri statute as that much of a burden on the plaintiffs.

“The statute only prohibits companies from misleading consumers into believing that a product is meat from livestock when it is, in fact, plant-based or lab-grown,” the judge wrote.

“The Court agrees and finds that plaintiffs have shown no risk of irreparable harm because their labels truthfully disclose that their products are plant-based or lab-grown and the Missouri Department of Agriculture has advised that products with these types of statements on their labels do not misrepresent themselves. 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.”

Real meat producers are also worried about the potential future competition from so-called “lab-grown” beef, pork, poultry and fish products that may be on the horizon.  So far, those potential laboratory creations are not commercially viable, but someday soon could be.

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