On November 11, 2020, we blogged about Oklahoma’s meatless meat statute. Like similar statutes in other states, the primary purpose of the Oklahoma law was to protect traditional producer of meat and poultry from competition from plant- and cell-based producers of meatless meat. Unlike other states, however, Oklahoma did not attempt to ban the use of the word “meat,” or other descriptors such as “bacon” or “burger.” Oklahoma merely required producers of meatless meat to proclaim its origins in labeling of the same size and font as the product’s name.
On November 19, 2020, the District Court denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The Court held that the governing case was Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which allows the government to require disclosure of purely factual and uncontroversial information, so long as it is reasonably related to a substantial government interest and not unduly burdensome.
There is no dispute that disclosure of the source of meatless meat is purely factual and uncontroversial. Indeed, plaintiffs view a cell- or plant-based source as a positive selling point. The Court found that the use of the term “meat” and other equivalents was potentially misleading, thus implicating the state’s interest in consumer protection. It also found that the font and size requirements were not unduly burdensome; plaintiffs can use whatever words and whatever size and font they please; and they remain able to say whatever they wish about the product.
That said, as a practical matter, the statute is likely to have achieved its purpose of preventing competition from cell- and plant-based manufacturers. It is not practical to design one label for exclusive use in Oklahoma and another for the rest of the country. One of the plaintiffs stated openly that it would withdraw from the Oklahoma market if the statute were upheld. This underscores the importance of potential federal regulation establishing uniform national standards for meatless meat and preempting state law.
On November 23, 2020, plaintiffs appealed. They really had no choice, as this ruling is likely to encourage other states whose frontal attacks on meatless meat statutes failed to try this route instead. The ruling underscores the importance of uniform national standards for regulating the advertising and labelling of meatless meat products.