The Vegan Society hopes Tofurky’s free speech win sends message to UK leaders

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» The Vegan Society hopes Tofurky’s free speech win sends message to UK leaders

The Vegan Society is hoping that a historic free speech lawsuit in the US, will stop any attempt from government leaders in the UK and European Union to push through policies banning certain words such as 'sausage', 'burger' and 'alternative to' from being used on vegan food products.

Last week a federal court in Louisiana dismissed a labelling law, introduced last October, that meant The Tofurky Company, and other vegan food manufacturers, could be fined around £380 ($500) a day for using terms such as “plant-based burger” and “meatless sausage” on their products and marketing campaigns.

However, Tofurky, with help from Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and The Good Food Institute (GFI), responded by filing a lawsuit, which it has now won, as it alleged the law infringed on its First Amendment rights by improperly censoring truthful commercial speech.

The Vegan Society is hopeful that the ruling in Louisiana could play in our favour.

Last year, the EU rejected a blanket ban on food manufacturers using words such as ‘creamy’ or phrases like ‘alternative to’ on vegan-dairy products, however, there are still some strict restrictions in place. For example, you can’t market ‘soya milk’ or ‘vegan cheese’ although ‘soya drink’ and ‘vegan block’ are allowed. Just months earlier there had been similar attempts in Europe to ban ‘meaty’ words, such as 'sausages' or 'burgers', from plant-based products, although this was rejected. At the time the society signed an open letter, calling on the European Parliament to dismiss the ban and instead, encourage a shift towards more plant-based diets.

There are ongoing concerns that similar proposals could be brought to the table again in future as those in the meat and dairy industry continue to argue that consumers are confused by the terms.

Despite the fact the UK has now left the EU there are worries that the same ban could be brought in here to make the importation and exportation process between the two easier. 

The Vegan Society’s Vegan Rights Advocate Dr Jeanette Rowley responded to the news: “Due to the recent surge in demand for plant-based dairy and meat alternatives, both the meat and dairy industries are desperate to make amendments to existing legislation to make it more difficult for manufacturers of plant-based alternatives to market and sell their products.”

“Therefore, we are delighted that the Louisiana court ruling has gone in favour of The Tofurky Company. The decision quite rightly shows that consumers are not confused and clearly understand the difference between non-vegan and vegan products, such as a soy steak or a seitan chicken burger. We’re hopeful that this lawsuit, and similar ones filed in the US in recent years, will serve as a reminder to UK and EU policy-makers that introducing such proposals are completely unnecessary and unreasonable and would only have a negative effect on vegan food manufacturers - at a time when demand for these products is at an all-time high, there is the most pressing need to encourage people to take up more sustainable alternatives.”

In 2019, the States of Mississippi updated its labelling regulations, meaning plant-based food companies could continue using terms like 'burgers' and 'hot dogs', while last year government officials in California reversed a decision to ban Miyoko’s Creamy from using terms like 'butter' and 'lactose-free' on its product packaging.

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