U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Dairy Churns Battle Over Wisconsin's Butter-Grader Law

Wisconsin is known as America's Dairyland.

So it seems strange that a dairy company is having such a hard time selling butter there. Minerva Dairy, an Ohio company which produces Amish butter, has sued the state over its butter-grader law.

In Minerva Dairy, Inc. v. Brancel, the dairy says the law is unfair to "artisanal butter." Unless you are a Wisconsinite, you may need to look that up.

Better Butter

For those who want to understand butter better, the New York Times gave a brief history of its evolution in America. Before the industrialization of the dairy industry, there was cultured butter.

It started with cow-fresh milk, which was left out to settle overnight as the cream rose to the top. In those unrefrigerated days, the milk soured more, the cream was hand-churned, and that became cultured butter -- high in fat with a nutty tanginess.

It got lost in America largely through industrial pasteurization, the Times said, until European imports re-introduced the vintage butter to the states in the 1990s. A few dairies, like Minerva, made their own "artisanal" varieties.

Adam Mueller, president of the company, challenged Wisconsin's 40-year-old, butter-grader law. He said Wisconsin Stats. Section 97.176, which requires different grading and labeling for out-of-state butter, violates Due Process and Equal Protection.

Legitimate Interest

Judge James Peterson rejected the claims, saying the state has a legitimate interest in helping citizens make informed butter purchases.

"Wisconsin has a legitimate interest in ensuring that its citizens aren't duped into buying 'mealy,' 'musty,' or 'scorched' butter (to name a few of the characteristics included in the grading system)," he said.

Minerva has appealed to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Joshua Thompson, attorney for the company, said Wisconsin is the "only state in the nation with such a ridiculous law."

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