Judge Rules Vegan ‘Butter’ Can Be Labeled as ‘Vegan Butter’
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg of California’s Northern District Court ruled Miyoko’s Creamery, maker of a vegan butter, may use the word “butter” to describe its, well, vegan butter.
As the ruling details, Miyoko’s received a warning letter from California agricultural regulators in December that claimed the company’s vegan butter products and website “ran afoul of state and federal law.” In that letter, California dairy regulators informed Miyoko’s that its vegan butter “‘is not butter’ and may not imply it is ‘a dairy food.'”
Miyoko’s, which is sold at thousands of U.S. and Canadian retail outlets, including Safeway, Whole Foods, and Costco, sued in February, arguing the state’s misguided threats could cost the company millions of dollars while violating the company’s First Amendment rights.
Last week’s ruling enjoins California from enforcing any ban on Miyoko’s use of the term “butter” while the lawsuit proceeds.
“This victory is the latest in a growing trend of common-sense labeling decisions made in courts across the United States,” said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant-Based Foods Association, which represents plant-based food producers.
The warning that California regulators sent Miyoko’s alleged the company’s butters violated state and federal “standards of identity” for butter. As I write in my book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, standards of identity “establish specific rules for what foods may be labeled under a given name,” including ingredients that may, must, or may not be present in the food, sometimes even specifying acceptable percentages of such ingredients. For example, as I note in the book, the USDA’s standard of identity for hot dogs (“hotdogs”) declares they must contain “raw skeletal muscle meat… may (but need not) contain ‘poultry skin’ and pig lips [and] may not contain more than 30 percent fat.”
“In the State’s central thesis, Miyoko’s product does not meet the federal standard for ‘butter’ (which it cannot be called without dairy and an 80% fat content), barely evades being ‘margarine’ (which it would have to be called if it was slightly fattier), and ought to be sold as a ‘spread’ (non-enforcement around peanut-and-fruit-based “butter” notwithstanding),” Judge Seeborg’s ruling explains.
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