“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