MONTREAL—National animal law advocacy group Animal Justice has been granted intervener status in a court case about the ability of a Montreal company to use the term “cheese” on the labels of its popular vegan products.
Montreal-based Rawesome produces cashew-based cream cheeses that are entirely plant-based and contain no cow dairy. In 2021, the City of Montreal filed charges against Rawesome, alleging that the term “cheese” could mislead consumers and should only be used to describe foods made from cow dairy milk—even though the Rawesome packaging states clearly and accurately that the cheeses contain no dairy.
Rawesome is now suing the federal and provincial governments, challenging the constitutionality and application of decades-old regulations under the federal Food and Drugs Act that say terms like “milk” and “cheese” can only be used to describe products made from secretions “from the mammary gland of the cow”. Animal Justice will intervene in the case, and will argue in court that it is unconstitutional to ban plant-based companies from using common terms terms like “milk” and “cheese”, in violation of the freedom of expression and freedom of conscience rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The case against Rawesome is part of a broader pattern of authorities singling out plant-based companies, and putting them at a disadvantage compared to animal-based food producers,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “Consumers aren’t confused by cashew cheese, soy milk, or coconut yogurt. In fact, people are actively seeking out plant-based dairy alternatives because they are healthier, better for the planet, and don’t harm animals. Plant-based food is here to stay, and food regulators need to catch up with the times and stop unconstitutionally targeting companies spearheading food system innovation.”
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.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) 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. This is part of a broader global trend of labelling censorship that has seen the meat and dairy industries attempt to crush plant-based competitors, urging governments to make it more difficult for them to access the marketplace.
Animal Justice is represented by lawyers Marie-Claude St-Amant and Sébastien Denoncourt of Melançon Marceau Grenier Cohen. Rawesome is represented by lawyer Natalia Manole.
Counsel to Animal Justice
Counsel to Rawesome