Each month, One Green Planet tracks major legal developments that are improving (or, in some cases, threatening) the lives and well-being of animals. Because the law so poorly under-protects animals, these updates trace a range of legal approaches to protecting animal rights and welfare. While some legal efforts pertain directly to animals by addressing, for example, animal cruelty or endangered species protections, more indirect efforts, like environmental litigation, can be equally important.

This month, we are discussing two legal efforts, both of which help animals by promoting vegan food—but which address opposite sides of the same coin. The first effort, an important victory for Tofurky in federal court, challenged a Louisiana law that made it harder for vegan companies to market their food products. The second effort is a legislative effort that would increase vegan lunches in Illinois schools.

1. Turtle Island Foods v. Strain

You probably know Turtle Island Foods by its common name… Tofurky. While Tofurky is famous, with the public, for its vegan deli slices, burgers, sausages, and roasts, it is famous in the legal community for challenging what I call “Tag-Gag” laws.

Tag-Gag laws are laws that states, typically states with large cattle industries, have passed to restrict how plant-based meat and dairy companies can label and market their products. These states argue that when vegan companies use words like “meat” or “milk”—words that traditionally reference animal products—it confuses consumers. Therefore, Tag-Gag states prevent vegan companies from freely using these kinds of words on vegan products.

Tofurky, represented by Animal Legal Defense Fund and Good Food Institute, has challenged Tag-Gag laws across the United States, arguing that these laws improperly censor their messaging and therefore violate Tofurky’s First Amendment right to free speech. In its most recent courtroom battle, Tofurky secured a major victory. A federal court in Louisiana agreed with Tofurky that the Louisiana law violated Tofurky’s free-speech rights, finding no evidence that Tofurky’s labels mislead consumers.

In fact, to the contrary, removing “meat” terminology from plant-based meat product labels would cause consumer confusion. Consider, for example, how a company could describe a vegan product that is meant to replace tuna fish, without using words like “tuna” or “fish”? It would be nearly impossible. Vegan companies need to use words like “meat,” “milk,” or “fish” to convey that their products are ethical substitutes for animal products. And, as the federal court agreed, they have a constitutional right to convey this message.

2. Vegan Options in Illinois Schools

As just discussed, some state laws make it harder for vegan companies to market their food products. Equally important, on the other side of the coin, some laws, regulations, and government programs effectively subsidize the meat and dairy industries. One of the biggest government programs that support these industries is the National School Lunch Program, under which the government purchases meat and dairy products from farmers and sells them to schools at discounted prices.

School lunch choices can have a major impact on animals, the environment, and children’s health. According to OMD, for example, “If every public school in California swapped a veggie burger for a beef burger just once a month, it would save an estimated 300 million pounds of CO2 per year or the equivalent of driving 300 million fewer miles.” And a plant-based lifestyle is healthier than meat and dairy—it is less likely to lead to obesity and diabetes, which are major problems among American families.

Finally, not only do school lunch choices have a direct impact, but they also may influence the food choices of the next generation; if children become accustomed to eating plant-based foods in school, they may be more likely to eat vegan meals as adults and raise their children accordingly.

Now, Congress and some states are considering implementing plant-based meals at schools. As of this month, Illinois is the most recent state to join the trend; the state is working to pass a bill that would require school districts to provide vegetarian or vegan school lunch options to students upon request.

3. Two Bonus Updates: Fur Bans

Source: Fur Free Alliance/YouTube

Fur bans are among the most successful efforts for vegan advocates—likely because people can see not just how cruel, but how unnecessary it is to wear and otherwise use fur. This month, the Town of Plymouth, Massachusetts joined a growing number of countries, states, and municipalities to pass a fur ban. Washington D.C., with the support of Fur Free D.C. and D.C. Voters for Animals, is likewise looking to prohibit sales of new fur products in the District of Columbia.

For previous Animal Law Updates on One Green Planet:

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