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Chicago Vegan Company Sues Oklahoma Over Packaging Label Law

Upton’s Naturals claims the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association can handle vegan competition

A hang holding a cardboard package in front of a grocery’s stores upright coolers.
Upton’s Naturals is engaged in a lawsuit.
Upton’s Naturals/Facebook
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

A Chicago vegan food company is suing the state of Oklahoma over a labeling requirement that targets vegan companies. The law requires manufacturers to change their packaging so words like “vegan” and “meat substitute” are more prominent to supposedly end customer confusion, so they wouldn’t accidentally buy a meat-free product. Upton’s Naturals, which is based in West Town, argues this is a ploy by the meat lobby to “force Upton’s Naturals to stop advertising (and selling) its products in Oklahoma.”

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Upton’s Naturals is a company that launched in 2006 and has a restaurant in the West Town. Upton’s attorneys say the label mandate is unnecessary, as the existing packaging is already clear. Upton’s specializes in seitan and jackfruit meat substitutes. They supply items to grocery stores and restaurants across the country. Earlier this month, it opened Chicago’s first all-vegan doughnut shop, Liberation Donuts.

Upton’s VP Nicole Sopko points out that the Oklahoma law was sponsored by the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association. The law would go into effect on November 1.

A few states have tried similar laws but have tried to go further by banning certain term. In Mississippi, a ploy to ban phrases like “veggie burgers,” “veggie hot dogs,” and “tofu bacon” was snuffed last year. In Missouri, state law prevents vegan companies to market substitutes using the word “meat.” Arkansas won’t let vegan products use the word “dairy,” according to VegNews.

Upton’s is the face of the lawsuit and is named as a plaintiff, along with the Plant Based Foods Association. While the Oklahoma law does not ban terminology, it would require disclaimers like “plant-based” and “vegan” to be printed as large as other design elements on packaging: “in type that is uniform in size and prominence to the name of the product.”

The lawsuit argues that the Oklahoma law is a violation of First Amendment rights. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Agriculture Secretary Blayne Arthur are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Lawyers for Upton’s argue that the state is treating vegan food as if it is a dangerous item. They say the labels are normally reserved for cigarettes and others items with potentially adverse health effects.

Upton’s wants the Oklahoma law blocked and for the state to pay its legal fees.

  • Upton’s Naturals Sues Oklahoma For Unconstitutional Anti-Vegan Labeling Law [VegNews]
  • Mississippi will no longer ban calling veggie burgers “veggie burgers” [Vox]