Posted by Cathy Geibel | TLB writer/reporter
By Amy Goodrich
For three generations, the Ocheesee Creamery, a tiny family-owned dairy farm located in Grand Ridge, Florida, has skimmed milk the old-fashioned way to produce the most natural cream, ice cream, whole milk and butter. For years, they have been selling the byproduct, skim milk, in its most natural form at the local farmers’ markets and health food stores.
While Mary Lou Wesselhoeft has always had the desire to provide her customers with the most natural products, she’s now being forced to dump about 400 gallons of skim milk each day, because a judge in Florida has ruled that they can’t call it skim milk because there are no synthetic vitamins added.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs has now forced her to call the all-natural pasteurized skim milk they produce “imitation milk,” or infuse it with synthetic vitamin A, which would make it anything but all-natural.
“I just want to tell the truth,” said Mary Lou Wesselhoeft of Ocheesee Creamery. “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.”
The controversy of our food labeling system
How can it be possible that a perfectly natural product is forced to be labeled as imitation?
The dictionary definition of skim milk is simply milk with the cream removed. Even Chief Judge Robert Hinkle couldn’t deny that.
“You know something’s been removed in order to make it skim milk,” Judge Hinkle said.
“It’s hard to call this imitation milk. It came right out of the cow,” Hinkle said. “Anyone who reads imitation skim milk would think it didn’t come out of a cow.”
However, he could not rule in favor of the creamery, because this would go against the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as well as the state laws upon which the food labeling system is based. Judge Hinkle added that most of the skim milk sold in stores has added vitamins to comply with state laws.
The Department of Agriculture notes that under state and federal law, skim milk can’t be sold as skim milk unless vitamins in the milk fat are replaced so that it has the same nutritional value as whole 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.”
Wasting a perfect all-natural product
Mary Lou and Paul Wesselhoeft have refused to add synthetic vitamin A to their skim milk, nor will they call their natural product imitation milk.
The Wesselhoefts and their attorneys note that the state is violating their First Amendment rights by forcing them to label something they say it is not. The creamery’s attorney, Justin Pearson of the Institute for Justice, will not accept the decision, and plans to appeal the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Her entire business is based on selling pure, all-natural items and that’s exactly why her customers purchase dairy items from her. So the idea of being forced to label one of these all-natural dairy items as imitation is absurd,” he said. “It would be disastrous to her business.”
While this may take months, the creamery will continue to sell other natural dairy products, such as whole milk, cheese and butter. However, they will have to disappoint at least some of their customers, since Florida has made it impossible for them to sell skim milk. They will also be forced to keep wasting thousands of gallons of all natural skim milk, thanks to absurd state rules.
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