The Natural State is on its way to finalizing a ban on marketing non-meats as “burgers,” and soy products from labeling themselves “milk.”
Assuming no interference from the courts, Arkansas will join Mississippi and Missouri in taking a hard stance against terms like “tofu sausage,” or “vegan bacon.” The law in question will restrict “utilizing a term that is the same as – or similar to – a term that has been used or defined historically in reference to a specific agricultural product” to describe an item that does not contain that product.
And while supporters claim the laws will keep consumers from being confused by the presence of words like “burgers,” detractors think the motive is a bit more pragmatic: To prop up the meat and dairy industries by pushing out alternatives.
Good Food Institute Director of Policy Jessica Almy told Vox that the consumer confusion argument simply does not hold water. “There is no evidence that consumers are confused by plant-based bacon or veggie burger labels, and federal laws are already in place that prohibits consumer deception,” she said.
Jaime Athos, CEO of Tofurky said that they have never received such a complaint. What he sees is a meat and dairy industry responding to the skyrocketing popularity of vegan substitutes. “Plant-based eating trends are really blowing up now, with exponential growth,” Athos observed, explaining:
We have this great moment of innovation in our industry where these products are better than ever. They’re more widely available too. And suddenly people are worried consumers might be confused. The reality is that this is a proactive decision on the parts of consumers — they understand that plant-based products are healthier for them and healthier for the environment.
In response, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of Arkansas on behalf of Tofurky, the popular meat-substitute brand. In a statement, the ACLU said:
The Act is a restriction on commercial speech that prevents companies from sharing truthful and non-misleading information about their products. It does nothing to protect the public from potentially misleading information. Instead, it creates consumer confusion where none existed before in order to impede competition.
The arguments presented are numerous, and include a discussion on Constitutional freedoms as they relate to the companies potentially targeted by the law. Regardless, the trend away from traditional meat and dairy products shows no signs of slowing — whether or not we call them “burgers,” they are selling like hotcakes.