LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - If you think a veggie burger sounds unappealing, wait until it's listed as a "vegetable-based protein" on a restaurant menu.
That's how it could appear in Arkansas, the latest in a string of states to pass bills that control how so-called fake meat is marketed.
The state's "truth in labeling" bill is set to take effect this week, banning the use of meat-related terminology to describe meatless products. The bill's authors say it's an effort to "protect consumers from being misled or confused."
But veggie-meat maker Tofurky says it won't be silenced. On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union said it had filed a free-speech lawsuit against the director of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Standards on behalf of the vegetarian brand.
The ACLU says that the state has violated the First Amendment, "censoring truthful speech in order to protect the economic interests of the meat industry."
According to the bill, plant-based "meats" such as those made from soy, tempeh, wheat or lab-cultured ingredients are not classified as meat. Companies found to misrepresent a vegetarian item as a meat product could be fined $1,000 per violation.
The ACLU said companies use "meat" terminology to prevent confusion rather than cause it. The language can help consumers contextualize a food's flavor, texture and appearance.
Missouri became the first state to legislate "meat" marketing in 2018. Mississippi's labeling law went into effect this month, and Louisiana passed a similar bill effective in October 2020.
Meat substitutes' major popularity boost has shaken animal agriculture industries, prompting lobbyists and lawmakers to advocate for federal restrictions.
In 2016, 25 members of Congress petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to end what they called the illegal misrepresentation of plant-based beverages as "real milk," citing damage to the dairy industry.
The US Cattlemen's Association filed a petition in 2018, calling on the US Department of Agriculture to ban the use of "meat" labels unless the product had been made from a slaughtered animal.
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