Oklahoma Judge Rules Against Upton’s Naturals, PBFA in Plant-Based Labeling Lawsuit

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A federal judge in Oklahoma has refused to block a law requiring plant-based foods to relabel their packaging. Upton’s Naturals is appealing the ruling.

In September, the Plant Based Foods Association and Upton’s Naturals, along with the Institute for Justice, filed a federal lawsuit challenging a new Oklahoma food labeling law as a violation of the First Amendment.

The Meat Consumer Protection Act, according to a PBFA press release, required a company to include a disclaimer stating that the food is plant-based. The disclaimer would be required to be as large as prominent as the product’s name.

According to Lexology, an Oklahoma federal judge has refused to block the Act. Judge Stephen P. Friot ruled that the Act did not violate the Constitution, and that the labeling of plant-based products is potentially misleading to a reasonable consumer. Lexology quoted Judge Friot as saying: “[w]hile plaintiffs argue that the government cannot make these meat-related terms potentially misleading by virtue of its definition of meat, the court notes that all of the meat-related terms, except burger, are also defined in the Dictionary by Merriam-Webster…to indicate they are animal-based.”

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Food Dive reported that a study from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association found that 55% of consumers thought that products labeled “plant-based” could contain meat or animal byproducts. Worth noting: Only 7% of respondents stated that they believed that plant-based beef “contains meat and there are no restrictions on the amount.” Other respondents believed that plant-based beef may contain animal byproducts, or “can contain small amounts of meat, but is primarily plant-based.” Subjects of the study were asked to look at images from brands including Impossible, Beyond Beef, and LightLife. The study notes that some subjects, looking at an Impossible product with the slogan “Made from Plants, Tastes Like Beef” were confused as to how the product tastes like beef.

Michelle Simon, Founder of PBFA, said in an email: “The Plant Based Foods Association will continue to fight to ensure its members, including Upton’s Naturals, can continue to fairly and accurately label their foods as the First Amendment clearly allows. The Institute for Justice has already noticed an appeal of the preliminary-injunction decision to the Tenth Circuit. We are confident that we have the facts, and the law, on our side.”

Food Dive reports that neither this litigation nor any like it has “come close to fully working its way through the system,” and explains that if and when a final ruling is passed on one of these cases, it will set a precedent for the rest.

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