butter, a product of the Republic of Ireland, cannot be sold legally in Wisconsin, a state already known for its fabulous dairy production. Irish butter is just one of the products produced by Ornua -- a multinational foods corporation that is headquartered in Dublin. Butter from other countries is also prohibited in the Dairy State.
Plaintiffs in a lawsuit, who include a specialty food store -- Slow Pokes Local Foods -- and four other “Cheesehead” Wisconsinites are suing the state government. Because Wisconsin requires either state or federal grading of butter sold in Wisconsin, Kerrygold and butter from other countries cannot be sold in the state. However, residents of Wisconsin are free to go outside of the state to get their fix of Irish butter.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend that the state law is an "unconstitutional" barring of Irish butter. “While you might not think of economic liberties as a civil rights issue, I would disagree with that,” said attorney Rick Esenberg, of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
(WILL), a law firm that advocates for free markets and conservative causes. “It is a civil rights issue.”
A statement from the organization said: “Wisconsin’s current protectionist law prohibits the sale of any butter that hasn’t been labeled by government taste testers. This archaic labeling regime prevents Wisconsin residents from enjoying very popular butters such as Kerrygold, a high-quality Irish import.”
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection agency has stated that the 1953 law, so long as it is on the books, will be enforced. So far, no one has been arrested or fined for selling Irish or other butter of foreign origin. Enforcement thus far has been limited to notifications from the state to businesses about the law. When enforced, violators can face thousands of dollars in fines. Kerrygold, which also produces cheese, is not involved in the lawsuit and has provided no comment.
Esenberg of WILL stated, “Because the Wisconsin butter law serves no adequate government purpose, it is one of those laws that violate the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Wisconsin Constitution. The requirement that sellers of butter engage in compelled speech – that they publicize the government’s opinion of how a butter tastes – also violates the guarantee of free speech.”
A 1953 Wisconsin law requires all butter sold in the State be sampled by government-licensed “butter tasters.” Once tasted, butter is issued a grade and then labeled during the packaging process. Wisconsin is the only state with such a requirement. Those who sell butter in Wisconsin without required labeling face up to one year in jail, $5,000 in fines, and a permanent injunction against future butter sales.
WILL said in a statement that Wisconsin’s “protectionist measures” are “inconsistent with the competitive federalism championed by WILL’s Center for Competitive Federalism.” The lawsuit was filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court. The full complaint can be found here