“Food is ever-evolving, and so too, should language to reflect how people actually use speech to describe the foods they eat.”
Miyoko’s Creamery has won a year-long lawsuit against the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) after the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favour of the plant-based dairy brand.
In 2019, Miyoko’s – a popular brand of vegan cheeses, butters, and other dairy-free products – received a letter from the CDFA demanding the company drops the term “butter” and “cruelty-free” from its labels.
It also instructed the brand to remove the image of a woman hugging a rescued cow from its website.
In response, the vegan brand teamed up with animal-rights organization Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) to sue the state agency for misapplying federal regulations and violating Miyoko’s constitutional right to free speech.
It filed a first amendment lawsuit and while the state requested the court to dismiss the case last June, Miyoko’s was granted a temporary injunction in August of 2020.
This week the CDFA claims of reserving the term “butter,” only for products that contain 80% milkfat citing federal labelling standards, which are over 90 years old were overruled by the federal judge.
“Quite simply, language evolves,” the judge stated in his ruling.
“Absent anything from the State revealing why old federal food definitions are more faithful indicators of present-day linguistic norms, neither the fact nor the vintage of the federal definition of ‘butter’ counts against Miyoko’s.”
The verdict means that the state cannot pressurise Miyoko’s to stop using terms like “butter,” “cruelty free,” and “lactose free” on its labels. It also sets a precedent for other vegan brands to label their products.
However, the judge upheld the CDFA demand for Miyoko’s to stop using the phrase “hormone free” since plants do produce naturally occurring hormones in their lifecycles.
‘Blatant example of agency capture’
Stephen Wells is the executive director at ALDF. He said: “The CDFA’s attempt to censor Miyoko’s from accurately describing its products and providing context for their use is a blatant example of agency capture.
“The fact that animal-milk producers fear plant-based competition does not give state agencies the authority to restrict one industry in order to help another.”
‘A precedent for the future of food’
Commenting on the lawsuit victory, Miyoko’s Creamery Founder and CEO Miyoko Schinner said: “Using words such as ‘butter’ and ‘milk’ in the context of even products made from plants and not from animals is common parlance among consumers in the modern world.
“Food is ever-evolving, and so too, should language reflect how people actually use speech to describe the foods they eat. We are extremely pleased by this ruling and believe that it will help set a precedent for the future of food.”
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