‘This will help set a precedent for the future of food…’ Judge rules in Miyoko’s favor in plant-based butter case: ‘Quite simply, language evolves…’

The legal dispute began in late 2019 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’ (which is made from coconut oil, sunflower oil and cashew nuts) because “it is not a dairy product.” ​​​

Miyoko’s – which said it was given no choice but to develop custom packaging for California (“creating a logistical nightmare​​”), change marketing and packaging materials nationwide at huge expense, or risk prosecution – filed a lawsuit in February 2020​​ in a bid to prevent the State from enforcing its demands, which it claimed violated its First Amendment rights.

Judge: ‘Quite simply, language evolves…’

In an order filed in the Northern District of California on Tuesday (Aug 10), US district judge Richard Seeborg granted Miyoko’s motion for a summary judgement to prevent the state enforcing its claims as regards the terms ‘butter,’ ‘lactose-free,’ ‘cruelty-free,’ and ‘revolutionizing dairy with plants,’ but denied it for the term ‘hormone-free.’

As for the core claims around vegan ‘butter,’ Judge Seeborg said that the State of California was basically arguing that federal ‘butter’ labeling standards (which stipulate 80% milkfat) deserve “a sort of constitutional credit for old age: because the statute has been on the books for ninety-odd years, it must be especially reflective of what consumers understand ‘butter’ to mean.

“This logic, which finds no footing in the State’s cited authorities, defies common sense. Quite simply, language evolves. Absent anything from the State revealing why old federal food definitions are more faithful indicators of present-day linguistic norms, neither the fact nor the vintage of the federal definition of ‘butter’ counts against Miyoko’s at Central Hudson’s first step.”

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