Today, November 20, 2014, the Institute for Justice filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Ocheesee Creamery owner Mary Lou Wesselhoeft, against the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) on First Amendment grounds regarding the labeling of her product. Two years ago Wesselhoeft received and order from the DACS to “Either stop selling your pasteurized skim milk immediately or stop calling it pasteurized skim milk.” It is unconstitutional for the DACS to force a business to mislead their customers.
Mary Lou and her customers subscribe to an all-natural philosophy, so injecting anything into her milk was not an option. But Mary Lou also refuses to confuse and mislead her customers, so using the government-mandated label was not an option either. Instead, Mary Lou made the difficult choice to stop selling her skim milk.
DACS has decided what is commonly known as skim milk—whole milk with the cream skimmed off—cannot be called “skim milk” unless it is artificially injected with vitamin A. DACS has demanded that Mary Lou either inject vitamin A before she can call it skim milk, or use a confusing and misleading label that calls it something it is not: Non-Grade ‘A’ Milk Product, Natural Milk Vitamins Removed. Mary Lou suggested other labels that would ensure customers her skim milk is only pasteurized milk, not just a “milk product,” but DACS rejected each one.
“Mary Lou sells skim milk that contains literally one ingredient, pasteurized skim milk, and Mary Lou wants to label it as pasteurized skim milk,” said Justin Pearson, managing attorney of IJ’s Florida office. “But Florida is denying Mary Lou her First Amendment right to tell the truth. Ordering businesses to confuse their customers is nothing more than flat-out censorship,” said Pearson. “And consumers suffer when the government forces businesses to replace simple and truthful information with confusing words. People want to know what is in their food. Mary Lou’s original label told them, but Florida is forcing her to mislead them.”
“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.”
Today’s case is part of IJ’s National Food Freedom Initiative. This nationwide campaign brings 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. IJ has won a free speech challenge to Oregon’s raw milk advertising ban and is currently litigating cases challenging restrictions on the right to grow front-yard vegetable gardens in Miami Shores, Fla., and the right to sell home-baked goods in Minnesota.