9th Circuit Court Rules That Blue Diamond Almond Milk Doesn’t Mislead Consumers

Finally, someone’s injected some sanity into the ongoing argument about whether plant milks can be labeled as “milk.”

The the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court dismissal of a class action lawsuit against Blue Diamond Growers, the producers of Blue Diamond almond milk, on December 20, 2018.

In Painter v. Blue Diamond Growers, the plaintiffs alleged that Blue Diamond’s almond milk products should be labeled “imitation milk” because they “substitute for and resemble dairy milk but are nutritionally inferior to it.”

Not so fast, decided the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. This lower court didn’t agree with these assertions and booted the case.

Under California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumers Legal Remedies Act, the district court dismissed the case for failing “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”

The plaintiffs appealed to the 9th Circuit, a federal appeals court, which determined that under the “reasonable consumer” standard that governs these claims, the plaintiffs must show that members of the public are “likely to be deceived” by Blue Diamond’s labeling and advertising practices.

There’s the rub, said the court. No reasonable consumer could be misled by Blue Diamond’s “unambiguous labeling or factually accurate nutritional statements.”

Hear that, Big Dairy? FDA, you listen up as well. A federal appeals court just told you that consumers aren’t stupid. We fully understand when we’re buying plant-based milk that we’re not buying cow’s milk. We also understand that our plant-based choice isn’t necessarily nutritionally equivalent.

We’re reaching for the almond milk, soy milk, oat milk or other plant-based milk on purpose. We want the type of milk that doesn’t hurt animals, doesn’t decimate the environment and is better for our health. That’s plant-based milk, folks.

There’s no mislabeling in violation of federal law either, according to the decision.

“Notwithstanding any resemblance to dairy milk, almond milk is not a ‘substitute’ for dairy milk as contemplated by [federal law] because almond milk does not involve literally substituting inferior ingredients for those in dairy milk,” the 9th Circuit found.

Earlier this year, the FDA sought input from consumers as to we use plant-based milk products and how we understand terms such as “milk” or “yogurt” when included in the names of plant-based products. The FDA also wanted to learn whether consumers are aware of and understand differences between the basic nature, characteristics, ingredients, and nutritional content of plant-based products and their dairy counterparts.

All this information will inform the FDA’s decision as to whether plant-based milk products need special labeling rules. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty clear on which products come from cows and which don’t. I’m also quite aware of any nutritional differences.

This federal appeals court decision is a huge win for plant-based milks. The only downside is that this particular opinion is considered by the 9th Circuit to be “unpublished” and not to be cited as precedent except in limited ways.

Nevertheless, Painter v. Blue Diamond Growers is out there now. Litigants can find it and refer to it in legal argument, though its final outcome isn’t precedential. The fact that this outcome exists, however, is huge — and persuasive.

This case is the first domino to fall, Big Dairy — but it will not be the last. These ridiculous challenges to the ability to call these products “milk” will now begin to fail, one by one. It’s about time, too.

Photo credit: Susan Bird

94 comments

Kevin B
Kevin B16 days ago

Thank you

SEND
Vincent T
Vincent T23 days ago

Thank you for sharing

SEND
Jeanne M
Jeanne M1 months ago

Sanity prevails!

SEND
Leo C
Leo Custer1 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

SEND
Shae Lee
Shae Lee1 months ago

Thank you

SEND
Joemar Karvelis
Joemar K1 months ago

Thanks

SEND
Daniel N
Past Member 2 months ago

tyfs

SEND
Shae L
Shae Lee2 months ago

thanks for sharing

SEND
danii p
danii p2 months ago

Thanks

SEND
danii p
danii p2 months ago

Thanks

SEND