All-natural skim milk cannot be labeled “skim milk” under Florida law, a federal judge has ruled.
US District Judge Robert L. Hinkle sided with the state of Florida’s contention that milk can only be called skim milk if it is injected with artificial Vitamin A – that is, making it nutritionally similar to whole milk sold on store shelves.
At the heart of the controversy is Ocheesee Creamery, which has an all-natural philosophy and says that injecting the vitamin would make its skim milk anything but all-natural. But the state – and now the judge – say the skim milk otherwise must be labeled “imitation.”
The creamery previously labeled its product “pasteurized skim milk.”
“I just want to tell the truth,” said Mary Lou Wesselhoeft of Ocheesee Creamery. “Our skim milk was pure skim milk, and nobody was ever confused when we called it skim milk. I refuse to lie to my customers, so I have stopped selling skim milk until I am allowed to tell the truth again.”
The creamery sells cream, skimmed from whole milk, to families and coffee shops – and skim milk is the byproduct. The creamery currently dumps about 400 gallons of skim milk each day because it refuses to label its product “imitation.”
Wesselhoeft and her attorneys contend that the state is violating her First Amendment rights by forcing her to label it something she says it is not. The creamery is being represented by the non-profit law firm, Institute for Justice.
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Hinkle, in his opinion, acknowledged that the creamer’s skim milk meets the dictionary definition of skim milk, but he said he was concerned that a ruling in favor of the creamery would enable a challenge to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and similar state laws upon which the food labeling system is based.
“The assertion, if sustained, would initiate a frontal assault on the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and its state counterparts, whose validity was established long ago,” Hinkle wrote.
The judge noted that most of the skim milk sold in stores has had vitamins added to comply with laws.
State officials applauded the decision.
“We are pleased with the judge’s ruling, as this case has always been about ensuring consumers know the nutritional value of the products that they are buying and feeding to their families,” Florida Department of Agriculture Spokesperson Jenn Meale told the media.
The creamery’s attorney, Justin Pearson of the Institute for Justice, told WCTV that he intends to appeal the case to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals. It could take months for that court to rule on the case. Pearson previously had said that “ordering businesses to confuse their customers is nothing more than flat-out censorship.”
The creamery will continue to sell other natural dairy products, including whole milk, cheese and butter. It simply will not be able to sell skim milk — and will now waste thousands of gallons of milk thanks to state regulators.
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