California Really Can’t Believe It’s Butter

A Petaluma vegan food company, Miyoko’s Creamery, recently sued the state of California in an interesting labeling dispute.  

Miyoko’s was ordered by California officials to stop using the word “butter” on its product labels and take down images of cows on its website.  And they are fighting the directive in court, claiming the company’s free speech rights are being violated. Miyoko’s filed a lawsuit last week in federal court against the state Department of Food and Agriculture in response to a Dec. 9 letter from the agency’s dairy safety branch that said the food enterprise was violating multiple federal and state regulations.

The court battle comes as Miyoko’s and other producers of dairy alternative foods, such as vegan butter and plant-based cheeses, are becoming more appealing to a growing number of consumers wanting to buy environmentally conscious products. The growing popularity of these foods presents another challenge for traditional dairies locally and nationwide, already dealing with an oversupply of organic dairy processors.

LaVone Dyer, a senior environmental scientist with the state agriculture department, noted three issues in the letter to Miyoko’s. The most significant was warning against potentially misbranding products as “butter” since a plant-based dairy alternative does not meet the federal definition as a food exclusively made from milk or cream.

Instead, the Petaluma company should be advertising its products solely as “cashew cream fermented from live cultures,” rather than “cultured vegan butter,” Dyer wrote. Both phrases now appear on Miyoko’s labels.

State officials also ordered the company to remove from its website a photo of a woman hugging a cow and product claims like “lactose-free” and “cruelty-free” because they imply to consumers that Miyoko’s sells dairy products.

Miyoko Schinner, the CEO and founder of Miyoko’s Creamery, described the state mandate as “an affront to our First Amendment rights.” If the company’s lawsuit is successful, Schinner thinks it will provide a legal precedent that could protect imitation food companies and alleviate fears she said could stifle innovation.

“Someone has to stand up against this,” Schinner said. “We’re in it for the long haul. We’re in it to create a new food system, not just sell products.” A spokesperson for the state agriculture department declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Well, the state can’t believe it’s butter, even vegan butter—and of course, now the courts get to hear all about it and decide. Even right there on the breakfast table, legal disputes are EVERYWHERE! And when those things negatively impact YOU and YOUR business including contract issues, landlord/tenant matters, nuisance ADA claims and even collections, call on the good guy business litigator Dean Sperling to resolve YOUR matter with YOUR best interests in mind!  

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