JEFFERSON CITY, MO (AP) — A federal judge has declined to block a Missouri law that bans companies from labeling plant-based meat products or meat substitutes as meat.
U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. said last week that he wouldn't issue a preliminary injunction to stop Missouri agriculture officials from enforcing the law, which says a product cannot be marketed as meat unless it comes from an animal with two or four feet, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Turtle Island Foods, which produces Tofurky products, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Good Food Institute appealed the decision on Wednesday. They argue the law violates their free-speech rights.
The law, which was approved by the Legislature in 2018, gives the Missouri Department of Agriculture the power to investigate and refer potential labeling violations to the Attorney General's office or a county prosecutor.
Supporters contend they are trying to protect the products raised by ranchers, pork producers and chicken and turkey farmers during a time when plant-based products are increasing in popularity.
Gaitan wrote in his opinion that Tofurky would not be affected by the law because its labels disclose that its products are plant-based or grown in labs.
"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.
Jessica Almy, director of policy for the Good Food Institute, said in a statement Friday the plaintiffs believe the appeals court will see that the law is "unconstitutional censorship."
"Missouri passed this law to protect established agriculture interests from competitive pressures, not to protect consumers," said Almy, who is also an attorney in the case. "Our case is ultimately about the First Amendment's protection of truthful speech. No government — including the state of Missouri — should be allowed to get away with using censorship to pick winners and losers in the marketplace."
The two sides of the dispute reached a tentative agreement last year but the talks broke down in July and no final resolution was reached.
The coalition earlier this year sued Arkansas , saying a similar law in that state also censors speech and similar law in Mississipp i is also in litigation. Other states with labeling laws include Montana, South Dakota, Louisiana and Wyoming.