Each month, One Green Planet tracks major legal developments that are improving (or, in some instances, threatening) the lives and well-being of animals.  Legislation and litigation sometimes protect animals directly—for example, by shutting down a zoo or slaughterhouse.  But since the law severely under-protects animals, legal advocacy must often be more creative.

One of the most effective ways that lawyers can support animals is by supporting the free speech of activists and vegan companies.  In that vein, animal lawyers have had a successful month, and One Green Planet is happy to highlight two major courtroom victories.  First, Animal rights groups successfully challenged a fourth “Ag-Gag” law in Iowa, which would have chilled activists from recording cruel farming practices.  Second, Rawesome—a Canadian company that makes vegan cheese—won a four-year legal battle against the City of Montreal, after the city sued Rawesome for its use of the word “cheese” on product labels.

1. Court Strikes Down Iowa’s Fourth “Ag-Gag” Law

An important way that activists stand up for animals is by sharing information with the public—specific information about what goes on in factory farms and slaughterhouses.  Whereas the meat and dairy industries disseminate messaging that animals are handled humanely (or even . . . pampered), activist footage shows the cruel reality inherent in using animals for food.  That’s why the meat and dairy industry—and states that support the meat and dairy industry—push laws to prevent activists from recording these videos and photographs.  The laws that aim to “gag” activists are known as “ag-gag” laws.

Historically, animal rights groups have found success challenging ag-gag laws, because these laws violate activists’ constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment.  But as courts strike down these ag-gag laws, states have responded by passing new (and more subtle) iterations.  In 2021, Iowa passed its fourth version of an ag-gag law.  In Version 4.0, Iowa created severe punishments for anyone using a recording device while trespassing.

While Iowa Ag-Gag 4.0 seems somewhat neutral on its face,  it was a not-so-subtle attack on animal activists.  Why?  Well, misusing recording devices (i.e., invading someone’s privacy) is already a crime in Iowa.  For example, recording through someone’s window, or in their home, would be a crime.  Since improper recording is already a crime, the new Iowa law targeted recording—such as recording animal cruelty or inhumane working conditions inside a slaughterhouse—that would otherwise be lawful and protected by the First Amendment, just because it is connected to a trespass violation. As the animal rights groups explained, trespass and speech (i.e., recording) are separate issues.  For example, trespassing on railroad tracks may be a minor violation of the law.  But, it makes no sense to penalize a trespasser severely because the trespasser lay down on the railroad tracks to take photos of the stars (i.e., used a recording device).

Making these arguments (and more), several activist groups—Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, Bailing out Benji, Food & Water Watch, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, with Public Justice as legal counsel—challenged Iowa’s fourth ag-gag law.  And on September 26, 2022, a federal judge found the law unconstitutional and struck it down.  The ruling marks another major victory in the nationwide legal battle against ag-gag laws.

2. Rawesome Wins Labeling Battle in Canada

Over the past decade, vegan companies have been fighting to use words like “meat” and “dairy”—words traditionally tied to animal products—on product labels, to clarify, to consumers, that the products are “meat” or “dairy” alternatives.  Using words like “meat” and “dairy” conveys the cruelty-free products’ taste, texture, and function, making them more marketable as novel consumer goods.  And using these words does not confuse consumers, especially since companies qualify them with “vegan” or “non-dairy.”

The animal-ag industry—along with various government entities that support the industry—have, nevertheless, tried to censor vegan labeling to make vegan products less marketable.  Many U.S. states have passed laws that prevent the use of words like “meat” or “milk” on vegan products, and vegan companies have successfully challenged these laws in court.  But the most recent victory in the labeling wars took place in Canada.

In 2018, the City of Montreal sued Rawesome, a vegan company that makes and sells plant-based dairy products in Canada.  Montreal argued that calling products “cashew cream cheese” violates Canada’s federal food regulations.  Animal Justice, as Rawesome’s legal counsel, argued that Canada’s laws about “cheese” and “cream cheese” address the composition of dairy products, and do not apply to products like Rawesome’s cheese, which is clearly labeled “non-dairy.”

Initially, In October 2021, a municipal court sided with Montreal and required Rawesome to pay a fine for violating Canada’s Regulations Respecting Food and Drugs. This month, however, Superior Court Justice Gregory Moore overturned the ruling.  The victory sets an important precedent for vegan companies in Canada.

For previous Animal Law Updates on One Green Planet:

Easy Ways to Help the Planet:

  • Eat Less Meat: Download Food Monster, the largest plant-based recipe app on the App Store to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy. You can also buy a hard or soft copy of our favorite vegan cookbooks.
  • Reduce Your Fast Fashion Footprint: Take the initiative by standing up against fast fashion pollution and supporting sustainable and circular brands like Tiny Rescue that are raising awareness around important issues through recycled zero-waste clothing designed to be returned and remade over and over again.
  • Support Independent Media: Being publicly funded gives us a greater chance to continue providing you with high-quality content. Please consider supporting us by donating!
  • Sign a Petition: Your voice matters! Help turn petitions into victories by signing the latest list of must-sign petitions to help people, animals, and the planet.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest news and important stories involving animals, the environment, sustainable living, food, health, and human interest topics by subscribing to our newsletter!
  • Do What You Can: Reduce waste, plant trees, eat local, travel responsibly, reuse stuff, say no to single-use plastics, recycle, vote smart, switch to cold water laundry, divest from fossil fuels, save water, shop wisely, donate if you can, grow your own food, volunteer, conserve energy, compost, and don’t forget about the microplastics and microbeads lurking in common household and personal care products!