Tallahassee, Fla.— In a setback for free speech, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida rejected a challenge to Florida’s skim milk labeling law. The Institute for Justice, which is representing Ocheesee Creamery in the case, plans to appeal the ruling.
Ocheesee Creamery owner Mary Lou Wesselhoeft wants to sell all-natural, pasteurized skim milk that contains literally one ingredient: pasteurized skim milk. She wants to label it “pasteurized skim milk.” But four years ago, she received an order from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS): Either inject your pasteurized skim milk with artificial vitamin A or stop calling it pasteurized skim milk.
DACS agrees that pure skim milk is legal to sell and safe to drink. It also agrees that Ocheesee Creamery’s skim milk consists entirely of the ingredient skim milk. But it has decided that skim milk cannot be labeled as skim milk unless other ingredients are added. Since Mary Lou refuses to inject anything into Ocheesee Creamery’s pure, all-natural skim milk, DACS banned her from using the words “skim milk” on the label and ordered her to label it as “imitation milk product” instead. In response, Mary Lou suggested numerous other labels saying that the skim milk did not contain vitamin A, but DACS rejected each one. Instead of misleading her customers, Mary Lou stopped selling skim milk.
Today’s ruling means that Mary Lou will still not be allowed to sell skim milk unless she adds a misleading label, even though the skim milk is in high demand from her customers. Mary Lou and her customers subscribe to an all-natural philosophy, so injecting anything into her milk is not an option. But Mary Lou also refuses to confuse and mislead her customers, so using the government-mandated label is not an option either.
“I just want to tell the truth,” said Mary Lou Wesselhoeft. “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.”
“Businesses have the right to tell the truth and the government does not have the power to change the dictionary,” said IJ Florida Office Managing Attorney Justin Pearson, who represents the creamery. “We look forward to continuing this fight at the Court of Appeals.”