IJ Challenges Florida’s Skim Milk Labeling Ban

March 5, 2015

When is skim milk not skim milk? If you live in Florida, the answer can be confusing. Mary Lou Wesselhoeft and her husband, Paul, own Ocheesee Creamery, a small dairy creamery on their farm in the Florida Panhandle. The creamery sells cream skimmed from all-natural, pasteurized whole milk at its store and to local coffee shops. Skimming the cream from whole milk, however, resulted not only in cream, but skim milk as well. So, five years ago, it started selling skim milk.

Mary Lou’s skim milk contains a total of one ingredient—pasteurized skim milk—and Mary Lou wanted to label it as exactly that. The creamery sold the milk with this honest label without any complaints or confusion. Many customers purchased the skim milk specifically because it did not contain additives. The creamery’s pure skim milk was perfectly safe to drink, legal to sell and its customers understood what they were buying.

But using an honest label is how Mary Lou ran into trouble. Two years ago, she received an order from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) that demanded she either stop selling the skim milk immediately or stop calling it skim milk. When milk is skimmed, much of its vitamin A is removed. In Florida, only skim milk that has been artificially injected with vitamin A is allowed to be labeled skim milk.

The government wanted Mary Lou to replace her simple, truthful label with a confusing and misleading label: “Non-Grade ‘A’ Milk Product, Natural Milk Vitamins Removed.” Mary Lou and her customers follow an all-natural dairy philosophy, and she refuses to inject anything into her milk. But that does not matter to DACS, which is trying to censor the creamery from calling the milk what it is—skim milk. Rather than mislead its customers, the creamery stopped selling skim milk.

Florida’s labeling requirement hurts consumers by forcing sellers to replace truthful information with confusing and misleading gibberish. People want to know what is in the food they buy. Mary Lou wants to tell them, but the government is trying to censor her instead.

The First Amendment protects the right of businesses to tell the truth, and the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly agreed. The government cannot force Mary Lou to say her skim milk is not skim milk. That is why Mary Lou teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a federal lawsuit in November to protect her right to free speech. This is the fourth case IJ filed as part of its National Food Freedom Initiative.

Protecting freedom of speech for businesses like Ocheesee Creamery is essential to ensuring Americans are free to make, buy, sell, drink and eat the foods of their choice.

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.