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ACLU Beefs Up Tofurky's First-Amendment Fight to Say ‘Burger’

Deena Shanker

(Bloomberg) -- Arkansas has made free speech a crime, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and the evidence is right there on a toasted bun.

The ACLU, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Good Food Institute filed for a preliminary injunction on Wednesday in support of a lawsuit Tofurky Co. brought last month against a new state law that bars food makers from using words like burger, steak, dog and meat to describe plant-based products. They argue the law’s true purpose is to benefit the beef industry by censoring competition and have asked the court to stop the state from enforcing the law while a federal judge in Arkansas weighs the suit.

“We’re talking about penalties” for “calling a veggie burger a veggie burger,” the Good Food Institute said in a statement.

As Americans increasingly turn to plant-based foods, the meat and dairy industries have pushed, state by state, for bills that restrict the way vegetarian and vegan products like tofu dogs are labeled. They argue food can be called “milk” only if it’s the result of lactation and “meat” only if it’s from a slaughtered animal.

Now the plant people are fighting back, saying there’s nothing misleading about using those terms because consumers are already accustomed to plant-based food descriptions like coconut meat, veggie burgers and beefsteak tomatoes. The ACLU is even waving the Bible, right there in the Bible Belt.

“And God said, Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed,” Wednesday’s filing cites from the Book of Genesis. “To you it shall be for meat.”

Read More: Vegan-Food Makers Sue for Right to Use ‘Meat’ in Products’ Names

(Updates third paragraph to remove an earlier statement by the Good Food Institute that jail time is an element of the Arkansas law. It isn’t.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Deena Shanker in New York at dshanker@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anne Riley Moffat at ariley17@bloomberg.net, Peter Jeffrey, Steve Stroth

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