In a case over the use of terminology such as “butter” and “dairy” on vegan products, the US District Court for the Northern District of California found in favor of vegan company Miyoko’s Creamery—and against the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Animal-rights organization Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed the lawsuit on Miyoko’s behalf earlier this year after the CDFA demanded that Miyoko’s remove certain terms like “dairy” and “butter” from its packaging, despite the company’s clear labeling of the products as “vegan” and “made with plants.” Miyoko’s was also ordered by the CDFA to stop using the term “cruelty-free” to describe its vegan butter and to take down a photo of a woman hugging a cow from its website, which was shot at Rancho Compasión, a farmed animal sanctuary founded by Miyoko Schinner and her husband. ALDF claims that the CDFA is misapplying federal regulations and infringing on Miyoko’s constitutional right to free speech in its lawsuit.
Last June, the same court dismissed the CDFA’s plea to dismiss the lawsuit and issued a preliminary injunction to Miyoko’s Creamery in August 2020, allowing Miyoko’s to continue labeling methods while the case was pending. The success in this lawsuit by the vegan brand serves as a precedent for other businesses trying to protect their corporate free speech rights. “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,”ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells stated. “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.”
Meat and dairy industry groups have used the argument that terms like “cultured vegan butter” or “plant-based burgers” are confusing to consumers without any evidence to back up their claims, both in the United States and in other regions where plant-based products are gaining popularity, such as Europe. This win, according to Miyoko Schinner, founder and CEO of Miyoko’s Creamery, is a step forward in the evolution of food and language. “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,” Schinner stated.
“Food is ever-evolving, and so too, should language to 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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