Miyoko's Vegan Butter Defends Its Right To Call Itself Butter

The dairy lobby has declared war on plant-based products, urging politicians across America to enact stringent laws preventing the makers of "nut juice" from calling their products "milk" and laying the smackdown on any company that produces "butter" from something that doesn't come out of a cow's udder. In December, the California Department of Food & Agriculture informed Miyoko's Kitchen—a Petaluma-based manufacturer of vegan cheeses and other "dairy-esque" products—it needed to immediately change the name of and redesign the packaging of its popular (and, in this writer's opinion, outstanding) cultured vegan butter.

The reasoning set forth in the agency's cease and desist letter is that "the product is not butter." The letter stated that butter must be made exclusively from milk or cream, and it must also contain at least 80 percent milk fat. (It is unclear if the bureaucrat who drafted this letter has ever heard of peanut butter, almond butter, apple butter, or I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.) In addition, the agency informed Miyoko's that it needed to remove any sort of imagery from its website and packaging that referenced animal agriculture—like this photo of a woman hugging a cow—saying that "dairy-related imagery" cannot legally be used to promote plant-based items that resemble dairy products. Miyoko's is also banned from using the terms "cruelty free," "hormone free," and "lactose free," as the dairy lobby the government feels that implies the products are made from actual dairy, which poses a threat to customers who choose not to read the terms "vegan butter" or "made from plants" that are prominently printed on the existing packaging.

Though the dairy lobby believes it can use its money, influence, and "alternative facts" to threaten a small business, The Mercury News, which also documents attempts by meat and dairy producers to combat plant-based alternatives, reports that Miyoko's is not kowtowing to these capitalist shenanigan. The company has decided to sue the state of California, claiming its constitutional right to free speech is being violated, and that, in America, no one can stop anyone from posting pictures of women hugging cows. In the suit, Miyoko's defends the offending photo, stating that it is "emphatically not an 'image of animal agriculture,' but instead conveys the message that by choosing a vegan option, consumers are protecting cows from harm in the dairy industry."

The suit also counters the government's claim that it cannot claim its products are "hormone free," since plants, like all living things, produce hormones. "No reasonable consumer would think the label implies that Miyoko's plant-based butter is free of substances that occur in all plants."

To comply with the dairy lobby's the government's demands, Miyoko's claims they would need to invest over $1 million in new packaging. But their suit is about more than just the cost of doing business; the suit avers that these regulation "significantly obstruct plant-based producers' ability to convey their message."