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Updated grim reaper billboard

A censored version of a provocative anti-cheese billboard has replaced an earlier version that featured the Grim Reaper wearing a cheesehead hat after Foamation Inc., which makes the iconic cheesehead, threatened a lawsuit against the billboard company.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

The Grim Reaper may loom over Highway 41, but the Angel of Death is not sporting a Cheesehead.

Threatened with a lawsuit by the company that makes the foam Cheeseheads, a vegan group on Tuesday blacked out the wedge of faux cheddar worn by the Reaper in a billboard disparaging the state's cheese industry.

The message on the billboard, put up Tuesday in De Pere near Green Bay remains, however: "Warning: Cheese can sack your health."

"We're happy," said Denise Kaminski, office manager at Cheesehead maker Foamation in the Milwaukee suburb of St. Francis. "The Cheesehead is a fun thing, so we're glad that has happened."

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was threatened with the lawsuit by Foamation after it announced it was putting up the billboard. The Washington, D.C., organization contended the billboard constituted free speech but covered the trademarked Cheesehead Tuesday after Foamation got its lawyers involved.

Don Snyder, general manager of Next Media Green Bay, owner of the billboard, said the Physicians Committee elected to black out the image after he told the group his company wouldn't put up the $2,000 billboard until the legal issue was resolved. 

"This group likes to invoke this type of response," Snyder said. "They're just looking to agitate people more than anything."

But while the Cheesehead is gone, the vegans stayed on point in their efforts to get Wisconsin cheese lovers to quit drizzling cheddar on broccoli, sprinkling mozzarella on pizza and pairing a havarti with a cracker. Cheeseburgers are out altogether, according to the group.  

"The key message is that cheese can hurt your health," said Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the organization that advocates for a dairy- and meat-free diet. "Cheese is the No. 1 source of saturated fat in the American diet. Parents often have no idea that this high-fat product could be causing their children's weight problems."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin is among 36 states with an obesity rate of 25 percent or more. 

Wisconsin is the country's top cheese-producing state and has 129 cheese plants. In March, Madison will host the World Championship Cheese Contest at Monona Terrace.