CENSORED: Small Creamery Sues Florida Department of Agriculture 

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · November 19, 2014

  • Ocheesee Creamery is censored from honestly labeling their skim milk as skim milk.
  • Florida wants creamery to use confusing “Non-Grade ‘A’ Milk Product, Natural Milk Vitamins Removed” label.
  • State is changing definition of ordinary words and violating businesses’ free-speech rights.
  • It is unconstitutional for government to force businesses to mislead their customers.

Tallahassee, Fla.
—Does the government have the power to change the definition of ordinary words? No, it does not, according to a major First Amendment lawsuit filed today by Ocheesee Creamery and the Institute for Justice.

Two years ago, Ocheesee Creamery owner Mary Lou Wesselhoeft received an order from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS): Either stop selling your pasteurized skim milk immediately or stop calling it pasteurized 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.”

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.

“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.”

“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.”

It is unconstitutional for the government to force businesses to mislead their customers. That is why Ocheesee Creamery joined with the Institute for Justice to challenge the law in federal court.

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.

For more on today’s lawsuit, visit www.ij.org/florida-skim-milk.