California Court Rules Vegan Creamery Has First Amendment Right To Call Products ‘Butter’ and ‘Cheese’
On August 11, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favor of Miyoko’s Creamery in its lawsuit against the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), upholding the company’s First Amendment right to use terms like butter and cheese in marketing its vegan products.
Based in Sonoma County, California, Miyoko’s Creamery produces artisanal vegan alternatives to traditional dairy products. In just over five years, its popularity has exploded with distribution in Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and other major supermarket chains.
The company is known for its popular vegan butter made from cashews, coconut oil, and sunflower oil, as well as other high-end alternative products like vegan mozzarella, cream cheese, and cheese wheels—all of which I can attest are very good.
Last year, the company received a threatening letter from the CDFA demanding it alter its marketing in the state. Although its labels clearly read “cultured vegan butter,” the department requested the creamery stop using dairy-related terms on its packaging altogether, claiming Miyoko’s marketing was in violation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s labeling regulations.
California ordered the company to remove the terms butter and cheese and cease to refer to its products as “lactose-free,” “hormone-free,” or “cruelty-free.” Instead, the state suggested that Miyoko market its vegan butter as oh-so-appetizing “cashew cream fermented from live cultures.” To do so would require an inordinate investment to produce custom packaging for sale of the product in California.
The letter doubled down by also ordering the company to scrap its mission statement, “Revolutionizing Dairy with Plants,” and to remove an image of a woman hugging a cow from its website. The photo in question is that of a volunteer at a nonprofit refuge for farm animals, Rancho Compasión, which was started by the creamery’s founder Miyoko Schinner.
At the forefront of the burgeoning movement toward ethical and sustainable alternative foods, Schinner was shocked by the letter, saying, “California is supposed to be an innovative and progressive state, and yet they are putting up roadblocks that could harm innovation.”
Nonetheless, the meat and dairy industries and their lobbyists insist that te
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