(Daniel Jennings) The owners of an dairy are dumping hundreds of gallons of skim milk down the drain because of a state order to label their all-natural product “imitation.”
Under Florida state rules, the only way the Ocheesee Creamery can market its product as skim milk would be to inject it with artificial Vitamin A – and thus avoid the imitation label. The owners of the creamery have sued the state and are being represented by the Institute for Justice.
“It’s hard to call this imitation milk,” Chief Judge Robert Hinkle of the US District Court for Northern Florida said during a hearing this month, according to the Associated Press. “It came right out of the cow. Anyone who reads imitation skim milk would think it didn’t come out of a cow.”
The creamery is dumping the milk because it was ordered to place the word “imitation” on its bottles by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs. For three years, the Department has been trying to get dairy owners Mary Lou and Paul Wesselhoeft to add Vitamin A to the milk or label it imitation.
“Our customers want an all-natural product,” Mary Lou Wesselhoeft told The Tallahassee Democrat. “If we call it imitation, they will not buy our product. To me it’s degrading and a slap in the face because it’s pure, unadulterated skim milk.”
The state disagrees.
“Ocheesee’s product is imitating — literally imitating — skim milk,” Assistant Florida Attorney General Ashley E. Davis, who is representing the state in the case, said.
The department’s contention is that the creamery’s all-natural product is imitation because it has fewer vitamins than whole milk, and because consumers supposedly expect it to have the same nutrition. The skim milk sold in most supermarkets has vitamins added to give it the same nutritional content as regular milk.
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“You know something’s been removed in order to make it skim milk,” Hinkle said. As AP noted, the creamery’s product does meet Webster dictionary’s definition of skim milk: “milk from which cream has been removed.”
Essentially, the state is trying to prevent the Wesselhoefts from marketing real skim milk as skim milk.
“Consumers have the expectation they’ll get a certain amount of nutrition,” Davis said. “(Ocheesee’s milk) is not skim milk and that disclaimer of imitation accurately portrays that. It’s either they make their product skim milk or they sell it as imitation.”
The Wesselhoefts say the state initially told them, three years ago during an inspection, to sell their milk as skim milk. Nothing was said of a label.
“The creamery sold its skim milk for three years without anyone being confused or harmed,” said attorney Justin Pearson of the Institute for Justice.
Before the order, the creamery was making around $1,500 a week by selling about 300 gallons of skim milk for $5 each.
The Ocheesee Creamery is a small family-owned dairy located in Grand Ridge, Florida, on the Florida/Georgia line west of Tallahassee.
Both the Creamery and the state have asked Hinkle to rule in the case in order to prevent it from going to trial in November, AP said.