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Meat & Livestock Industries Say COOL Rules Go Too Far

“Consumer curiosity” is not enough of a reason to expand the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law to include a requirement for companies to detail where various production steps occurred. And since no food safety, public health benefits or any other substantial government interest is involved, the COOL regulations will violate the constitutional protection from compelled speech.

Those are the crux of the arguments that eight of North America’s top meat and livestock organizations are making in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. They are asking the court to block the mandatory COOL law regulations that were finalized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May.

Meat and livestock associations in both the U.S. and Canada are objecting to including production steps on labels, specifically where the animal was “born, raised, and slaughtered.” Such information requirements, they say, will limit or eliminate the industry’s widespread practice of commingling products, instead requiring the segregation of livestock and products throughout the supply chain.

As a result, they say, COOL as it’s being implemented puts companies, plants and producers at risk of going out of business. Processing facilities on the U.S.-Canadian border would be at a disadvantage if livestock no longer moved freely from one country to another.

The American Association of Meat Processors, American Meat Institute (AMI), Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association, and Southwest Meat Association filed the court action.

“Sorting and tracking livestock and labeling meat by the various ‘routes’ that livestock may take on the way to market is needlessly complex with no measurable benefits,” said Mark Dopp, AMI general counsel and senior vice president of regulatory affairs. “Shoes, for example, may say ‘Made in the USA.’ They do not say, ‘Leather from cattle born in Canada, harvested in the USA, tanned in South Korea and processed in the USA,’ yet that is the sort of labeling that we are now being forced to apply.”

“Congress mandated country of origin labeling for meat and poultry—not lifetime itinerary labeling,” Dopp added. He said segregating and tracking animals according to the production steps and including the information on labels is a “bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy,” from which everyone else loses.

In addition to its constitutional arguments, the meat and livestock groups say COOL violates the Administrative Procedures Act by picking winners and losers in the market by fundamentally altering the meat industry with no identifiable benefit.

And the federal lawsuit argues that COOL rules violate the Agricultural Marketing Act by exceeding the language contained in the COOL statute. The meat and livestock groups say Congress specifically rejected “overly detailed disclosures.”

The meat and livestock organizations are asking the court to declare the COOL invalid under the First Amendment, the Agricultural Marketing Act, the 2008 Farm Bill and the Administrative Procedures Act.

They are also seeking to block enforcement, vacate the rule, and remand the issue back to the Agricultural Marketing Service. They are also asking for reimbursement of their attorneys’ fees and costs along with any other relief the court “deems just and proper.”

Mandatory country of origin labeling was first included in the 2002 Farm Bill. The following year, USDA first proposed the rule requiring the various production steps to be listed on the label. The 2008 Farm Bill included language to make this proposal “less burdensome,” according to the meat and livestock groups.

After the rule took effect, Canada and Mexico said it violated trade agreements and filed a challenge to USDA’s COOL rules with the World Trade Organization. In 2011, WTO ruled in their favor, and an appeals body upheld that finding in 2012.

The WTO required the United States to be in compliance by May 23, 2013. The meat and livestock organizations say the rule that USDA put into effect in May 2013 is “very similar” to the original 2003 rule.

© Food Safety News
  • Carlo Silvestr

    What’s the problem? Why are the lobbyists objecting? Are they hiding something? As the fiasco that Townsend Farms and Scenic Fruit are undergoing seemingly because of Turkish Pomegranate Seeds, to say nothing of the large Hepatitis A outbreak in Europe that seems to stem from product coming from the Middle East, why shouldn’t the public know where various steps in production take place? Face it, “Big Food” and “Big Ag” is in it for the money and consumers’ health and welfare always seems to be the first thing that is discarded. People have a responsibility to take care of themselves but how can we do that when the producers directly want to obfuscate and obliterate anything that may cause people not to want to purchase what they produce?

  • Oginikwe

    Are we a sovereign nation or not?

    COOL labeling is enormously popular with consumers in the U.S. and there will be substantial backlash if this is not required.

  • Breeda O’Mahoney

    Stop murdering animals. Problem solved!!!

  • I’m a little shocked (I don’t know why) that Mark Dopp from the American Meat Institute (AMI) would compare cattle slaughtered for shoes with cattle slaughtered for human consumption. Mr. Dopp, the worst thing that can happen with a new pair of shoes is blistered feet until you break them in. The worst that can happen from eating a hamburger (where the meat comes from thousands of spent dairy cows, from multiple geographic areas and is grounded into patties shipped for thousands of miles) is human death. This disregard for human health and for animals, as well as, the industry’s view that animals are nothing but machines or commodities like shoes, if you will, is the systemic problem with the meat industry. “Consumer Curiosity” is a horrific argument against COOL. There is no curiosity, there is concern. Consumer concern is the phrase these companies opposing COOL should be using but somehow it just doesn’t fit their argument. Any argument, really.

    Bryan R. Clarey

  • Rei Miraa

    i know when i buy shrimp i avoid shrimp that are farmed or from Thailand, or anywhere asia. because of many reasons: distance to get to my plate, water quality where shrimp lives… ect..
    i dont need to know the life story of my steak, veal, or mcnuggets. now where they are processed (slaughtered) would be more of interest as an origin.
    if the cows were raised in MT then sent to japan to be kobe beef then sent back here. that is too much detail.

  • Paul

    As a person who lives next to the Canadian US border I often see livestock across the fence from each other on either side of the border. Wow do they look different. The grass is much greener on one side than the other. Much better too! I guess it just depends which side of the fence one lives on.

  • EM

    Becuase some of you all are not involved with livestock production I will let you in on something. In livestock production the margin at which producers can make a profit is small, if you don’t believe me look at the price of live livestock, and do the math. Include: Fuel, time, fertilizer, equipment, feed (hay, grain, water, minerals), vaccinations, medicines (too keep them healthy), land, facilities (barns, chutes, etc). That is just the basic essential list. So by adding more stipulations, it thus costs’ more to produce a pound of meat, cattle fed in Canada are the same as cattle fed in the U.S., they are just colder, (they have records kept). So if you all will do the research and then still feel the same, do more research, and tell me how we we are supposed to feed the world if we don’t continue to use a large scale production mindset.

    P.S. Business and Economics 101, minimum input for maximum return