Almost two years ago, the California Department of Food and Agriculture ordered Miyoko’s Creamery to stop using terms like “butter” and “lactose-free” on its product packaging. But it had targeted the wrong company.
Reluctant to change its packaging at great expense, Miyoko’s filed a lawsuit claiming that the restrictions violated its First Amendment rights. Last week, the case was finally resolved, with Judge Richard Seeborg agreeing that Miyoko could continue to use the terms “butter”, “lactose-free”, and “cruelty-free” — though it would no longer be able to label its products as “hormone-free”.
Seeborg pointed out that “language evolves”, and modern-day customers may have a different understanding of the word “butter” than the nine-decade-old federal food standards definition. He argued that since Miyoko’s uses the term alongside others like “plant-based” and “vegan”, there is no evidence to support the claim that it is misleading consumers.
The verdict is a huge victory for Miyoko’s, but for many, it isn’t just about one company — as founder and CEO Miyoko Schinner says, it could “set a precedent”. This is important because as plant-based products continue to take market share from their animal counterparts, the meat and dairy industries in many countries have reacted by attempting to restrict plant-based product labelling.
Perhaps the most notorious was the European dairy lobby’s rejected Amendment 171, which would have created such severe restrictions for plant milks that many labelled it “censorship”. The EU also voted down a ban that would have prevented alt-meat producers from using terms like “sausage” and “burger”. In the US last year, Virginia’s governor vetoed a bill that would have banned alt-dairy producers from using the word “milk”.
While the outcome of the Miyoko’s Creamery case will probably discourage some attempts to restrict plant-based product labelling, the meat and dairy industries are unlikely to give up without a fight. And laws will vary between countries — in Australia, for example, a vote is about to take place on whether to ban alt-meat producers from using terms like “beef” and “chicken”.
For now, Miyoko’s is enjoying increasing success, recently raising a huge $52 million in Series C funding. And its butter, the subject of the court case, is now the bestselling plant-based butter in the natural grocery channel across the USA. In an interview at the start of August, we asked Schinner why.
“In a blind taste test by chefs at an airline recently, our butter came out ahead of even dairy butter,” she said. “Our butter is the best tasting and performing – that’s why.”