Miyoko Wins First Round in Its Lawsuit Against California Dept of Food and Agriculture over use of the Word ‘Butter’

Miyoko with cheese
©Miyoko's Creamery

Plant-based creamery Miyoko has won the first round in its lawsuit against the California Department of Food and Agriculture, in a dispute over labelling. The US district judge for the Northern District of California has denied a Motion to Dismiss, in a case brought by Miyoko’s Kitchen, over the use of the word ‘butter’ for plant-based products.

The lawsuit began in February 2020, after Miyoko Schinner received a letter from the Department of Food and Agriculture in December last year, stating that Miyoko has to drop the word ‘butter’ in its packaging of “Cultured Vegan Butter”, as it is creating an “erroneous impression” with consumers, according to CBS. Miyoko states that this demand violates their first amendment rights.

The Department of Food and Agriculture argued that butter should contain a minimum of 80% by weight of milk fat and also that as the product is not a dairy product, it cannot make claims such as “Lactose-Free,” “Hormone Free,” and “Cruelty-Free,” which imply that the product is dairy food.

©Miyoko’s Kitchen

A California attorney general had argued that Miyoko’s lawsuit was “not ripe” and that the two sides could have negotiated this matter out of court but Miyoko’s is standing its ground arguing that any negotiating would mean backing down to change the labelling.

CBS quoted Miyoko Schinner’s response to the letter: “I don’t think there’s a single confused consumer out there. No more than a consumer is confused when they order almond milk.  They know it’s not dairy milk. In fact, they’re ordering almond milk because they don’t want dairy milk!”

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg has now agreed with Miyoko’s, stating that “Miyoko’s has met its burden of establishing a credible threat of prosecution.” The company can continue using its labelling as it stands until a ruling is made.

Miyoko
©Miyoko’s Creamery

Miyoko told FoodNavigator: “Next we proceed with our Motion for Preliminary Injunction. We’ll have to wait for that hearing to be set, likely two to three months from now.”