(Vegan) Butter FTW: Miyoko’s Creamery Wins Legal Battle To Describe Plant-Based Products Like Dairy

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Vegan dairy brand Miyoko’s Creamery has been granted permission to use the term “butter” to describe its products after winning the legal battle against the State of California. The company is now also allowed to use the labels “cruelty-free” and “lactose-free” on its range of vegan dairy products. 

Miyoko’s Creamery has been given the go-ahead by the United States District Court Northern District of California to use the terms “butter”, “cruelty-free” and “lactose-free” on its plant-based products. However, the labels “hormone-free” or “revolutionizing dairy with plants” cannot be used on grounds that these would not be technically accurate descriptions. 

Judge Richard Seeborg said: “The state’s showing of broad marketplace confusion around plant-based dairy alternatives is empirically underwhelming.​” 

In this early phase of the litigation, it therefore appears Miyoko’s decision to label its product as ‘butter’ is entitled to First Amendment protection.

Judge Richard Seeborg, U.S. District Judge of District Court for the Northern District of California

“In this early phase of the litigation, it therefore appears Miyoko’s decision to label its product as ‘butter’ is entitled to First Amendment protection.” Judge Seeborg added that the State failed to present any testimony from a consumer who was misled by Miyoko’s plant-based butter product. 

The ruling follows a legal battle launched by Miyoko’s against defendants Karen Ross from the California Department of Food & Agriculture and Stephen Beam, the chief of milk and dairy food safety at the State of California. Miyoko’s claimed that the State was violating its rights to free speech by prohibiting the brand from describing the qualities and characteristics of its plant-based products. 

The dispute began last year after Miyoko’s was told by the Department of Food & Agriculture to drop the terms “butter”, “lactose-free”, “hormone-free” and “cruelty-free” from its vegan butter product, which is made from coconut oil, cashew nuts and sunflower oil because it is a non-dairy item. Miyoko’s was subsequently forced to change its labelling for California, creating a “logistical nightmare”. 

Announcing their win on Facebook, Miyoko’s Creamery said: “Victory! Our use of the word “butter” has been deemed to merit First Amendment protection, according to the United States District Court Northern District of California, in their ruling on our Motion for Preliminary Injunction.” 

“No cows are harmed in the making of the most delicious butter on the planet! Thank you, Animal Legal Defense Fund, for fighting the good fight for us!” 

Debates around the use of dairy and meat terms have become more common in recent years as plant-based sales continue to surge amongst consumers who are on the lookout for healthier and more environmentally-friendly alternatives. 

According to the Plant Based Foods Association, many plant-based meat brands have found themselves in pitched battles against big meat or dairy industry-funded lobbiers who have fought their use of these terms on grounds that the products do not contain any animal ingredients. 

With the latest win for the use of the term “butter” for vegan alternatives, it appears as though future legal fights will do little to stop the rise of plant-based products, especially as shoppers become more aware of food safety and sustainability amid the coronavirus crisis. 

All images courtesy of Miyoko’s Creamery. 


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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