Ohio Dairy Maker Fights Wisconsin Butter Law

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – An Ohio-based dairy company claims in court that Wisconsin’s requirements for butter grading amount to a ban on artisanal butter and an unconstitutional restriction on interstate commerce.

Minerva Dairy Inc. and its president Adam Mueller filed a lawsuit Thursday in Madison federal court against Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and Ben Brancel and Peter J. Haase of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture’s Trade and Consumer Protection division.

Minerva Dairy argues the state has no right to enforce an “antiquated” statute it says interferes with interstate commercial butter sales. The law at issue, Wis. Stat. § 97.176, says it is unlawful to sell “any butter at retail unless it has been graded” by specific standards.

“Butter grading is essentially a matter of taste, and Wisconsin has no constitutional basis to require plaintiffs to conform Minerva Dairy butter to a Wisconsin government-mandated taste,” the lawsuit states. “Minerva Dairy butter is safe, legal, and its slow-churned taste is enjoyed by its consumers nationwide. By prohibiting ungraded butter from being sold in Wisconsin, defendants make it cost-prohibitive for out-of-state artisanal butter makers to sell their butter in Wisconsin, and the prohibition therefore amounts to an artisanal butter ban.”

Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. to enforce such a law, which it only began enforcing earlier this year, according to the complaint.

Due to “the significant costs required to sell graded butter, USDA-graded butter is only produced by large butter makers who sell commodity butter,” according to Minerva Dairy.

“To sell their butter in Wisconsin, plaintiffs must have each batch of their slow-churned butter independently graded by a USDA official. Because plaintiffs produce multiple batches of butter a day, selling USDA-graded butter is cost-prohibitive,” the complaint states.

Minerva claims Wisconsin’s effective ban on artisanal butter violates its right to compete in interstate commerce.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture did not respond to an email request for comment sent Friday.

The family-owned Minerva was founded in Hustiford, Wis., in 1894 and has sold cheeses and Amish-churned butters in every state. The company eventually moved to Minerva, Ohio, and has made butter there since 1935.

Another company, Ozslo Foods, filed a similar lawsuit last month in Ozaukee County Circuit Court, claiming Wisconsin is banning the sale of safe brands of butter “for no reason other than a government bureaucrat has not sampled it.”

Ozslo operates a store, Slow Pokes Local Foods in Grafton, Wis., and wants to sell imported butter, like Kerrygold from Ireland, but says it can’t because of the butter-grading law. Both Ozslo and Minerva want a judge to declare that the law violates their constitutional rights.

Minerva is represented in Thursday’s lawsuit by Joshua Thompson with Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif.

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