James R. Molen

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'Free’ At Last? What The Miyoko’s Ruling Means for the Future of Plant-Based Food

August 20, 2021Media Mention
BevNET

Litigation Partner, James Molen, shares his legal perspective with BevNET regarding the landmark ruling in the Miyoko's Creamery case in which a judge allowed the company to use the terms "butter," "lactose-free," and "cruelty-free" as long as it is labeled as vegan on the packaging. Another ruling to make note of took place in Oklahoma last year where a federal judge upheld state law requiring alternative meat companies to put a label on their package as big as the product name stating that it is "plant-based." Molen believes that this ruling gives "both sides ammo" in future legal cases.

Excerpts: 

While lawyers are free to cite this case going forward, providing them a “pretty large arrow in their quiver” in the courtroom, the ruling still has a long way to go in California (let alone the rest of the country) before the current regulations surrounding standards of identity are struck down, Molen said.

He noted that as a California court, the ruling has no binding authority in any other state, and is in fact not binding in California until it is affirmed on appeal. Ultimately, it will take a ruling in the Ninth Circuit to “become the law of the land,” he said, but even then “other courts are not in any way bound to follow this decision.” However, that doesn’t mean judges won’t consider it.

“So any case in California is going to rely heavily on this decision and California courts are going to give it weight, even though they’re not bound to follow it.”

But going forward, Miyoko’s Kitchen vs. Ross might prove more effective in cases involving dairy terms than meat terms, Molen noted. While the decision could carry over and will certainly be invoked in cases involving meat alternatives, it is by no means a surefire bet.

“It is going to be relevant, the reasoning will be persuasive there,” Molen said. “But I guess it’s certainly not an across the board slam dunk for every lawsuit. And we’re going to continue to see, I think, a lot more litigation arising out of this trend towards regulating plant-based protein.”

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