The butter industry in the United States has undergone a topsy-turvy recent past, to say the least.
While butter has long been a staple part of the human diet, the margarine industry and well-marketed “low calorie” products like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! have drastically cut into the industry’s profits over the years.
Butter has made a comeback lately in large part due to the movement toward more natural foods.
But now, the country’s second-largest dairy-producing state is taking a stand against one of the most iconic and popular new butter brands on store shelves— one that almost single-handedly brought back the market for healthy grass-fed and natural butter.
Wisconsin Law Bans Popular Irish Butter Brand
Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, originating from Ireland and grass-fed cows, has carved out a market for itself in the U.S. by placing quality over mass production, and consumers have responded.
The export butter brand saw record U.S. sales in 2015 amid skyrocketing demand for pure Irish butter, and progressively bigger growth has been projected until 2020 by the Irish Dairy Board. Kerrygold stakes its quality on traditional production methods and the temperate Irish climate, which allows for extended grazing times and creates a rich butter with a deeper yellow color.
In Wisconsin, grass-fed butter from pastured cows is still available, but far from the norm in recent years. Much of the state’s dairy is produced from cattle fed an unnatural diet of genetically engineered corn.
In October 2016, John Holevoet, the director of government affairs at the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, went to bat for production using GMOs in light of a decision from Dannon Yogurt to stop using them due to consumer demand. Many U.S. consumers of Kerrygold prefer it not only for its taste, but also for health reasons.
Despite the clear popularity of Kerrygold, residents of Wisconsin, the country’s second-largest dairy state, have been unable to purchase it — all thanks to what critics call an antiquated state law going back to 1954. The law bans the sale of butter that hasn’t been tested and graded by official state butter testers; Kerrygold does not.
In response to the ban, a specialty grocery store in Grafton, Wisconsin and four consumers who prefer Kerrygold are taking a stand, announcing a lawsuit on Friday, March 18 challenging the state law.
Crossing State Lines for “Better Butter”
As noted in this report from UPI.com, the four plaintiffs say that they need to travel over state lines in order to purchase Kerrygold. The company doesn’t submit its products to the state’s evaluation for taste, color and texture, as determined by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. But the plaintiffs argue that the butter standards are a matter of taste and consumer preference, not safety.
Kerrygold is not party to the legal case, the website reported. While it’s being portrayed as a playful tiff between two interests over a favorite food, the plaintiffs’ attorney told listeners on Wisconsin Public Radio that the case should be viewed in a serious light.
“We’re obviously having fun with the lawsuit, but the reality is this is a serious issue in the sense that economic liberty is an aspect of civil liberty,” the attorney, Jacob Curtis, said. “Individuals should have the ability to make a living, to make economic decisions free of government interference, particularly if there is no rational basis for that interference.”
A state spokesperson told UPI.com that the butter law is only enforced via letters informing retailers that they could be in violation, and theoretically allows for a punishment of up to $1,000 in fines or six months in jail.