People need labelling for their food. Labels are usually the first thing people notice when they are shopping for food at the store. They tell people what the food is and who makes it. What does it mean when a label is ‘deceptive’ and how are plant-based foods affected by this problem?
Miyoko’s Creamery is a non-dairy creamery that started out in Fairfax, California and now has a newer, larger factory in Petaluma, California. Miyoko’s vegan dairy products are becoming popular in thousands of retail stores. Miyoko’s Creamery makes plant-based ‘butter’ and ‘cheese’ but is calling her products by these names that are traditionally associated with animals ‘deceptive?’
Miyoko’s was sued in a 2020 Court Case by the state of California for using dairy terms on her plant-based butter. According to an article from foodnavigator.com, “the legal dispute began after Miyoko’s was told by the California Dept of food & Agriculture to drop the terms ‘butter, ‘lactose-free,’ hormone-free’ and ‘cruelty free,’ from its plant based ‘butter.” According to the article, US district judge Richard Seeborg granted Miyoko’s motion…to prevent the state enforcing its claims as regards the terms ‘butter’, ‘lactose-free,’ and ‘cruelty free.’ What can we learn from the results of this case and how does the decision affect plant-based labelling going forward?
According to Title 21-Food and Drugs, Chapter 9-Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic act, Section 343-Misbranded Food, and seen on the infographic, “food shall be deemed to be misbranded if it’s advertising is false or misleading in a material respect, it is offered for sale under the name of another food, if it is an imitation of another food without the word “imitation” before the name, or has a misleading container.”
The court found Miyoko’s use of the word ‘butter’ to not be misleading and therefore entitled to First Amendment protection. “In damages suits brought by individual consumers under the California Unfair Competition Law, for instance, trial judges of the district have held it is simply implausible that a reasonable consumer would mistake a product like soymilk or almond milk with dairy milk from a cow, and that even the least sophisticated consumer does not think soymilk comes from a cow (Miyoko’s Kitchen v. Ross).”
Miyoko’s was also allowed to use the terms “lactose free” and “cruelty free” on their labelling because those terms were not found to be deceptive. The claims were both found to be literally true. The terms were also found not to be part of any ‘deceptive inference’, so Miyoko’s was granted First Amendment protection.
This is an important victory for Miyoko’s as well as for other plant-based companies coming after her. The words ‘cheese’, ‘milk’, and ‘dairy’ were originally associated with animals, but the times have changed. Moving forward, non-dairy ‘imitation’ products should be seen as just as deserving of their labels as their animal-based competitors. Non-dairy cheese doesn’t come from a cow, but people must accept that it is still ‘cheese’, just a new type of ‘cheese.’ With the legitimacy of plant-based labelling confirmed by this case, plant-based companies can move forward with labelling their products true to what they are. These are products that we all know and love but come not from animals, but from plants.