Legal Issues

Miyoko Schinner sues the California Agriculture Department over use of marketing language

Fight for the right to be able to use dairy-related words

The vegan cheese entrepreneur Miyoko Schinner is fighting back against the established meat and dairy industry’s desire to keep hold of food nomenclature for itself. The Animal Legal Defense League (ADFA) is seeking a preliminary injunction against the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

The background to the lawsuit is that in December 2019 the CDFA wrote to Miyoko’s Creamery instructing it in relation to its “butter” to remove from its packaging and website all references to dairy, butter and being hormone-free, lactose-free and cruelty-free. Furthermore, it told the company to delete the image of a woman hugging a cow from its website.

This is not the first time that state agencies have taken umbrage at her plant-based company using words that have historically been associated with the dairy industry. Miyoko’s Creamery recently had to withdraw its products from sale in Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland, for a period while technicalities around the use of the word “butter” were sorted out.

“We’re about spreading compassion, and we think it’s important to talk about these values, so we’re going to keep talking about them. We’re not going to let a state agency tell us we can’t talk about the things that are important to us and the foundation of our brand, ” said Schinner.

Freedom of speech to use dairy-related terms to help consumers

Schinner considers the fight to be a First Amendment freedom of speech issue. “If I called this product some funny name like ‘George,’ people would have no idea how to use this product, or what it is for. I think it’s important to give consumers clues, especially if you’re trying to replicate or replace something that is no longer relevant,” she said.

“We filed it not just for us, but really for the whole industry because California is supposed to be an innovative and progressive state, and yet they are putting up roadblocks that could harm innovation,” Schinner said. “I’ve talked to other startups that have received similar letters. I feel it’s important to stand up for sustainability, for the future of food, for the direction we have to take in order to reverse climate change, save animals and create a food system that’s equitable for all.”

Miyoko’s Creamery stands to lose millions of dollars if a massive new repackaging effort needs to be undertaken to comply with future legal restrictions.

The company is planning on an upcoming launch of non-dairy butter and cheese products which will not be based on cashew nuts. The leading plant-based dairy company which is helping dairy businesses transition to plant-based farming is looking significantly to expand its reach by appealing to those who have a nut allergy.

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Nicholas Orosz

Nicholas is a former City solicitor and Cambridge graduate. He has a long-standing interest in health & nutrition, the environmental movement, green politics & digital publishing. He has always loved crafting words. His transition to a vegan perspective has been gradual and an ongoing process of self-discovery. Contact:
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