Vegan Dairy Challenges California Law on Plant-Based Food Labeling
Miyoko’s Kitchen Inc. has filed a lawsuit asserting that California infringed its First Amendment right to free speech by requiring the removal of “truthful messages and images from its website and its product labels—including the phrase ‘100% cruelty and animal free,’ the use of the word ‘butter’ in the phrase ‘vegan plant butter,’ and even an image of a ‘woman hugging a cow.'” Miyoko’s Kitchen v. Ross, No. 20-0893 (N.D. Cal., filed February 6, 2020). The company reportedly received a letter from California in December 2019 that “orders Miyoko’s to remove claims that its vegan products are ‘100% cruelty and animal free,’ ‘cruelty free,’ and ‘lactose free’—all entirely truthful statements.”
“For decades, plant-based producers have used terms like ‘vegan cheese,’ ‘soy milk,’ and ‘cashew yogurt,'” the complaint asserts. “Consumers are not confused by these labels. In fact, plant-based dairy terms are so widely used that the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)] itself uses them.” The complaint also asserts that the state’s letter cited FDA regulations on the standard of identity for “butter,” and the company argues that “FDA has repeatedly recognized that foods do not meet FDA’s threshold for ‘butter’ can of course use the term ‘butter’ in their common or usual name—products like peanut butter or apple butter, and all sorts of other fruit and nut butters have used the term ‘butter’ for well over a hundred years without any hint of consumers confusing them for butter from cow’s milk.” The company seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions enjoining California from enforcing the laws set forth in the December letter as well as costs and attorney’s fees.