Montreal Vegan Company Wins Court Case Over Plant-Based Cheese Censorship

A vegan cheese company has won a court battle against the City of Montreal, after it was charged and prosecuted by the City for using the term “cheese” on labels for its cashew-based products.

In 2018, the City of Montreal laid charges against Rawesome Raw Vegan Inc. The City claimed that by using the term “cheese”, Rawesome violated provincial and federal laws that state that cheese must be made from coagulated cow’s milk. If convicted, Rawesome would have been on the hook to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Rawesome was initially found guilty on October 22, 2021, but the company appealed the conviction.

On September 21, 2022 a Superior Court judge acquitted Rawesome, on the grounds that the food standards apply to dairy cheese, not plant-based cheeses.

While this is great news and a big step forward, the fight to stop plant-based labelling censorship doesn’t end here.

Animal Justice is still intervening in a separate, ongoing constitutional challenge filed by Rawesome about the ability of companies to use terms like “milk” and “cheese” to describe plant-based products.

Animal Justice will argue in court that it is unconstitutional to ban plant-based companies from using these common terms, and that doing so would be in violation of the freedom of expression conscience rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Photo: Rawesome

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a long history of threatening vegan companies with sanctions for using terms like “milk”, “cheese”, and “sausage” on plant-based food labels and menus. The case against Rawesome is part of a broader global trend of labelling censorship that has seen the meat and dairy industries fight against plant-based competitors, urging governments to crack down on plant-based companies and make it more difficult for them to access the marketplace.

As Canadians learn about the horrors of the dairy industry, and as they realize that there are almost no regulations governing animal welfare on farms, consumers are increasingly leaving dairy-based milk, cheese, and yogurt off of their shopping lists. Canadians are also opting for plant-based dairy foods for health reasons. In 2019, the Canada Food Guide was updated to eliminate the dairy category. The Food Guide now emphasizes the importance of eating more plant-based protein.

We know that consumers aren’t confused by cashew cheese, soy milk, or coconut yogurt. People aren’t tricked into buying these foods—they seek out plant-based products precisely because they contain no dairy or other animal products. Plant-based food is here to stay, and food regulators need to catch up with the times and stop unconstitutionally targeting the companies that are spearheading food system innovation.