Legal Battle on Skim Milk Causes Florida to Pay $437,000

The state of Florida is paying approximately $437,000 to cover the legal fees of attorneys who represented a dairy in a lawsuit against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

According to the Associated Press, court records show a federal judge ordered Putnam’s office in September to pay the attorneys who represented Mary Lou Wesselhoeft, owner of Ocheesee Creamery.

Florida officials reportedly paid the attorneys this month. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) stated in the notice it “concurs that complying with this order is in the best interest of the state.”

On March 20, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that it is unconstitutional for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to ban Ocheesee Creamery from labeling their milk as “skim milk.”

Five years prior to the court ruling state officials had demanded that the milk be labeled as “imitation” skim milk because no vitamins were added. At the time FDACS sent an order to Wesselhoeft saying, “Either stop selling your pasteurized skim milk immediately or stop calling it pasteurized skim milk.”

State officials wanted Ocheesee Creamery to either inject vitamin A into the skim or instead call it “imitation skim milk.”

Following the court’s ruling in March, Justin Pearson, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represented Ocheesee Creamery, called the decision “total vindication” and “a complete rejection of the Florida Department of Agriculture’s suppression of speech.”

Pearson went on to say, “All Mary Lou wants to do is sell skim milk that contains literally one ingredient—pasteurized skim milk—and label it as pasteurized skim milk. Thanks to the 11th Circuit, Mary Lou is no longer denied her First Amendment right to tell the truth.”

Ocheesee Creamery is a third generation dairy farm with an on-farm processing plant near Grand Ridge, Florida, approximately 50 miles from Tallahassee. The Jersey dairy sells whole milk, skim milk, chocolate milk, yogurt, ice cream and butter though an on-farm store and at local grocers in the Florida Panhandle region.

“I simply want to tell the truth about what is in the products I sell, and I did not like that the government wanted me to lie,” Wesselhoeft said after winning the lawsuit. “Today’s good news is proof that it is important to stand up for your rights when the government wants you to do something that is wrong.”