It’s Illegal to Ban Companies from Using ‘Milk’ or ‘Cheese,’ Lawsuit Claims
Less than 10 percent of American consumers believe that plant-based milk contains dairy-derived ingredients, according to research from the International Food Information Council. Despite this lack of confusion, dairy giants are lobbying state and federal governments worldwide to prevent plant-based companies from advertising with terms related to their animal-based counterparts such as "milk" and "cheese." This week, Rawesome filed a lawsuit against the Canadian and Quebecian governments to challenge the Food and Drugs Act, which prevents plant-based brands from using dairy-related terms.
Rawesome filed its two lawsuits after the City of Montreal filed charges against the company in 2021. Montreal claimed that labeling its vegan cream cheese with the term "cheese" would mislead consumers and that under Canadian law "cheese" is reserved for exclusively foods made from cow's milk.
Now, Rawesome is attempting to reverse the narrative to allow plant-based brands in Canada to advertise their products as milk and dairy alternatives. The company claims that banning companies from using these common terms violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, giving consumers the right to easily shop for foods that match their dietary preferences and personal beliefs.
“We believe it’s unconstitutional to ban plant-based food companies from using common language like ‘milk’ and ‘cheese’ to describe food,” Camille Labchuk, Animal Justice executive director and lawyer, told VegNews. “No one is misled or confused by cashew cheese or soy milk, and it’s time for Canadian regulators to stop targeting vegan companies. Labeling censorship gives an unfair advantage to Big Dairy and Big Meat, and puts plant-based companies at a competitive disadvantage.”
Canada Protects the Dairy Industry, Not the Planet
Teaming up with Rawesome, animal law organization Animal Justice was granted intervenor status for the lawsuit. The lawsuit aims to expose how Canadian lawmakers are protecting the dairy industry rather than serving their citizens and protecting the planet. This campaign also points out how Canada's food labeling laws are outdated. Created in 1979, the food labeling statutes have not adapted to the growing plant-based market and increased demand for sustainable food.
“The Canada Food Guide was updated three years ago to remove the dairy category, and it now encourages people to eat more plant-based protein. Yet Canadian labeling regulations haven’t been updated since 1979,” Labchuk continued. “We’re calling on the Canadian government to urgently update these laws to catch up with the growth of the plant-based sector, and help people more easily access vegan food that’s healthier, better for the planet, and better for animals.”
Rawesome and Animal Justice argue that these regulations represent pointed efforts to stall plant-based growth as meat and dairy giant begin to feel threatened. However, dairy production is an environmental hazard, preventing Canada from achieving its sustainability goals. One recent study claims that the Canadian population will need to reduce its animal-based consumption by 80 percent to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Miyoko’s Wins Lawsuit For Vegan Dairy
Within the United States, the California Department of Food and Agriculture attempted to prohibit the use of "butter" and "dairy" on plant-based products. However, Miyoko Schinner –– founder of Miyoko's Creamery –– countersued with the help of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Won. Now, American brands can market their products with meat- and dairy-related term without government intervention.
“The CDFA’s attempt to censor Miyoko’s from accurately describing its products and providing context for their use is a blatant example of agency capture,” ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said. “The fact that animal-milk producers fear plant-based competition does not give state agencies the authority to restrict one industry to help another.”
France Attempts to Ban “Meat-Related” Terms
This July, France attempted to prevent plant-based brands from using the word "meat" to describe their products. Plant-based organizations immediately lobbied against the decision including ProVeg International and Proteines France – a consortium of businesses aiming to enhance France’s plant-based industry. Then in August, France's highest court overturned the decision, citing that the new regulation did not give brands the proper amount of time to redesign their advertising strategies.
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