This disagreement is at the heart of a lawsuit [PDF] filed last year in federal court by Ocheesee Creamery against the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.
The dispute actually goes back to 2012, when the state notified the creamery, whose pasteurized skim milk included no additional ingredients, that if it didn’t start putting vitamins into the final product that it would have to be labeled as “Non-Grade ‘A’ Milk Product, Natural Milk Vitamins Removed.”
In the complaint, which alleges violation of the business’s First Amendment rights, the creamery says it “refuses to inject its skim milk with any additives, and it likewise refuses to confuse and mislead its customers by mislabeling its safe, all-natural, pure skim milk.”
According to Florida state law, “imitation milk products” are those foods that have the “physical characteristics, such as taste, flavor, body, texture, or appearance, of milk,” but do not fall within the state’s definition of “milk products” because they are “nutritionally inferior to the product imitated.”
The state contends that some vitamins and nutrients are removed when the cream is skimmed off of whole milk, and so skim milk must re-introduce those items to be nutritionally equal to milk.
The AP reports that, in court this week for motions on summary judgment, a lawyer for the state argued that consumers expect whole milk and skim milk to have the same nutritional value.
“Ocheessee’s product is imitating — literally imitating — skim milk,” the attorney explained.
But the judge seemed to question the logic of this way of thinking, pointing out that — by its very nature — skim milk is expected to be different than whole milk.
“You know something’s been removed in order to make it skim milk,” noted the judge, who also appeared to take issue with the state’s application of the “imitation” label.
“It’s hard to call this imitation milk. It came right out of the cow,” said the judge. “Anyone who reads imitation skim milk would think it didn’t come out of a cow.”
The creamery’s attorney pointed out that when the creamery’s current owners purchased the business six years ago, they were told this product had to be labeled as “skim milk” because of its fat content, which makes sense.
“The creamery sold its skim milk for three years without anyone being confused or harmed,” said the lawyer.
It’s in the judge’s hands to decide on whether to grant summary judgment now on this case or move forward toward a planned November trial.
We could only find this relevant Simpson clip dubbed into Spanish, but you get the idea: