Tofurky has replaced Upton's Naturals as the manufacturer plaintiff in the case battling an Oklahoma state law requiring plant-based meat products to have a claim on their products that is the same size and prominence as the name of the product.
A new complaint was filed in the case this week by Tofurky and the Plant Based Foods Association, which are now represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The group said in a press release that the law imposes "additional burdensome, impractical, and unclear disclosure requirements on plant-based meat producers that go beyond federal law." The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office did not respond to a request for comment before press time.
This marks a shift in legal strategy in the Oklahoma case, which was initially filed last September. That case, filed by Upton's Naturals and the PBFA, mounted a First Amendment challenge against the Oklahoma law.
After a year of little change in the litigation seeking to invalidate the Oklahoma plant-based meat labeling law — which has been in effect since last year, but not yet enforced, according to ALDF — a new strategy to fight it is taking hold. Both the argument and the players have changed, but their opposition to the law has not.
Tofurky, which has headlined similar lawsuits against labeling laws in Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana, is sliding into the driver's seat on this case. The ALDF said this is to present a common plaintiff fighting against a variety of labeling laws in different jurisdictions.
The initial argument made against the Oklahoma law was that the plant-based claim requirement infringed upon a company's right to free speech and its ability to label products as it wanted, as long as those claims were accurate. After the court failed to put the law on hold based on this argument as the case played out, Upton's Naturals appealed that decision to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal — which only concerned whether the law would be put on hold while the case continued in court, and had no substantive arguments against the law as a whole — was voluntarily withdrawn by the plaintiffs as the case strategy shifted.
In the new complaint, ALDF argues the Oklahoma law violates FDA regulations governing product labeling, creates new rules when there is no legitimate consumer confusion and adds to a patchwork of state laws plant-based food companies are being asked to comply with. The lawsuit also argues the law is "unclear and vague" in its wording.
"By attempting to impose burdensome roadblocks on a burgeoning industry, the State of Oklahoma has bowed to pressure from cattle industry lobbyists and taken sides in a heated national campaign by proponents of animal-based foods against plant-based products," the lawsuit says. "The growing consumer demand for plant-based alternatives has caused conventional meat producers to increasingly view plant-based meat producers as a threat."
It will be interesting to see how the new case reinvigorates the fight against these labeling laws. Cases to overturn the laws were filed in five states, with only one finding resolution so far. (Mississippi revised its regulations, so the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their challenge.) Perhaps this new strategy will move something forward. A definitive ruling drawing from federal law in one case could have an effect on all of these laws and could have the power to end the cycle of legal challenges.
Samantha Oller contributed to this story.