Recently, Tofurky celebrated a legal victory in Louisiana regarding free speech and truthful labeling of their products but they weren’t the first plant-based company to find themselves in a legal battle over labels. Last August, Miyoko’s Creamery achieved a similar win against the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
“Milk plants, hug cows.” Founded by Miyoko Schinner in her home kitchen in 2014, Miyoko’s Creamery is now one of the top vegan cheese and butter producers. Her products often referred to as “phenomenally vegan,” can now be found in thousands of stores nationwide. Miyoko says of her company, “We’re not a company with a mission; we are a mission with a company. We’re here for a reason: to overturn animal agriculture and pave the way for a new compassionate sustainable food system.”
MIYOKO’S CREAMERY PROGRAMS
On their website Miyoko’s describes itself a “Compassion Centric” company. “We’re out to create a new kind of food company, food system, and food culture that’s built on the principle of compassion for all living beings.” The brand promises to be “phenomenally vegan” in everything they do. In addition to producing delicious vegan butter and cheese, Miyoko’s has created other programs that contribute to a more compassionate society.
Miyoko’s Creamery is not out to get dairy farmers, in fact, they want to help their competitors. Their goal is not to put dairy farmers out of business but to help them grow their businesses in a more humane and more profitable direction. The company founded the Dairy Farmer Transition Program to help farmers move from animal dairy to plant dairy. According to Miyoko, “We’re not saying: ‘we want you off your land.’ We are saying: ‘we want to provide a solution for you to stay on your land; help transition your animals to sanctuaries; and for you to be able to grow something else that can become part of the new food economy.”
Founded by Miyoko and her husband, Michael, Rancho Compasión, which provides sanctuary to rescued farm animals. Besides giving former farm animals a haven where they can flourish, the overarching goal is to promote compassion for all living creatures.
Rancho Compasión began with the Schinner family adopting two goats but quickly grew into a non-profit sanctuary that provides a forever sanctuary for over 80 residents. As stated on the Rancho Compasión website their vision is:
“We envision a world where non-human animals are no longer seen as here for human use. We, like other sanctuaries, have set forth a model where animals are not food, property, or products—they can simply just be. In our vision of a farmed animal sanctuary, the animals we typically associate with a barnyard setting, production of byproducts and flesh, or consider dirty, dumb, or less-than, are deserving of the same awe we would give a magnificent whale, adoration of a cute puppy, respect of fierce lion, and the humanity and person-hood we give our own species. We wish to see a world where systems of oppression and exploitation of all beings are dismantled and rebuilt upon a foundation of compassion. We are vegan because we believe in reducing harm to our fellow earthlings. We believe in a vegan future.”
MIYOKO’S CREAMERY LAWSUIT
In 2019, the California Department of Agriculture filed an injunction against Miyoko’s Creamery regarding their vegan products’ labels. The injunction alleged that Miyoko’s Creamery was violating FDA labeling regulations. In the injunction, the CDFA insisted that Miyoko’s Creamery discontinue using terms like “dairy” or “butter,” claiming the dairy industry has sole ownership of those words. They also demanded Miyoko’s Creamery alter its mission statement, “Revolutionizing Dairy with Plants,” to stop using terms like “cruelty-free” and “lactose-free” to describe products. They even went as far as instructing Miyoko’s Creamery to remove an image of a woman hugging a cow from its website.
The company immediately partnered with Animal Legal Defense Fund and responded with a first amendment lawsuit against the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The case called the complaint filed by CDFA “an attempt to unconstitutionally censor truthful commercial speech, violating Miyoko’s Creamery’s First Amendment right to free speech.” According to Stephen Wells, Animal Defense Fund’s Executive Director, “The CDFA’s attempt to censor Miyoko’s Creamery from accurately describing its products and providing context for their use is a blatant example of agency capture. The fact that animal-milk producers fear plant-based competition does not give state agencies the authority to restrict one industry to help another.”
The United States District Court of the Northern District of California ruled in favor of Miyoko’s Creamery in August 2021, concluding that the CDFA could not ban the company’s use of terms like lactose-free, cruelty-free, and butter. They also ruled the mission statement, “Revolutionizing Dairy with Plants,” was acceptable and could still be used in Miyoko’s Creamery labeling and advertising.
VEGAN COMPANIES UNDER FIRE
Lawsuits like those brought against Miyoko’s Creamery and Tofurky are likely to happen to other vegan companies in the upcoming years as sales of plant-based products soar and animal-based products decline. As the old saying goes: “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”