Florida-based Ocheesee Creamery is fighting a state agricultural department rule that bars the business from accurately labelling its skim milk as skim milk. Because creamery owner Mary Lou Wesselhoeft does not inject vitamin A into the milk, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Serices (DACS) says she can only label it "Non-Grade 'A' Milk Product, Natural Milk Vitamins Removed".
Ocheesee Creamery and the Institute for Justice (IJ) are challenging this labeling requirement, which certainly doesn't make for spectacular marketing. But Wesselhoeft and IJ go one step further and say that the label is actively misleading to consumers, since her skim milk is not a "milk product" but whole, natural milk with the cream skimmed off. This is, by definition, how skim milk is made.
"It is unconstitutional for government to force businesses to mislead their customers," states IJ, accusing the Florida government of claiming "the power to change the definition of ordinary words."
Florida law requires those who sell skim milk—a process that necessarily means removing a lot of the milk's natural nutrients—to artificially boost the beverage's vitamin-A level until it matches that found in whole milk. Wesselhoeft refuses to do so, citing an anti-additive philosophy she shares with her customers. But the state says without vitamin A enhancement, she can't call the product skim milk, nor will they negotiate with her on other acceptable labeling, according to the creamery's lawsuit.
"The government is censoring me from telling my customers what is in the milk they want to buy," said Wesslhoeft. "I have a right to label the skim milk I want to sell as exactly what it is: pasteurized skim milk."
Her case, Ocheesee Creamery v. Putnam and Newton, was filed in federal court Thursday. The case is part of IJ's National Food Freedom Initiative, a campaign consisting of "property rights, economic liberty and free speech challenges to laws that interfere with the ability of Americans to produce, market, procure and consume the foods of their choice." So far, the initiative has seen success in a challenge to Oregon's ban on raw milk advertising; a challenge to a Miami Shores, Florida, ban on front-yard vegetable gardening and Minnesota restrictions on selling homemade baked goods are ongoing.
Wesselhoeft and her husband and creamery co-owner Paul aren't seeking monetary damages, only the right to "engage in truthful speech about its lawful skim milk."