Vegan Food Co. Sues Over Oklahoma’s Product Label Law

Oklahoma labeling law challenged ( Upton's Naturals )

Oklahoma’s new law governing labeling for some vegan products violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

The suit was filed by Upton’s Naturals Co., an Illinois company that sells plant-based foods, and the Plant Based Foods Association, a group with 170 members, according to a report in the Tulsa World. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction preventing House Bill 3806 from taking effect Nov. 1, a permanent injunction and attorney’s fees, costs and expenses.

Specifically, the suit alleges Oklahoma lawmakers passed the measure to protect meat-industry groups from competition brought by plant-based food marketers. The law was backed by the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association.

While the new law permits companies to use words such as "meat", "beef" and "bacon" on their labels, they would also need to include a disclaimer that the products were derived from plant-based sources "in type that is uniform in size and prominence to the name of the product."

Prohibiting the use of meat-based terms without the disclaimer creates confusion among consumers where none existed, the suit says. Defendants named in the lawsuit are Gov. Kevin Stitt and Agriculture Secretary Blayne Arthur.

“The Act would fail any level of First Amendment scrutiny,” the lawsuit states. “The Act is a content-based regulation of speech. No state besides Oklahoma requires that labels for plant-based foods have disclaimers ‘uniform in size and prominence’ to their product names. There are cigarette labels that have product names the same size as mandatory disclaimers on the labels.”

Upton’s Naturals does not want to redesign its labels with the compelled disclaimer, which would require either new labels nationwide or special labels for Oklahoma, the suit says.

Upton's Naturals and the Plant Based Foods Association challenges a similar law in Mississippi last year before dropping the suit when the state's law was revised.

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