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Big Day for Challenge to U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling Rule

UPDATE: After a two-hour hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said she’ll have a decision on the meat industry’s request for a preliminary injunction within 14 days.

Led by the powerful American Meat Institute, most of North America’s meat industry today will be asking a federal court in Washington, D.C., for a preliminary injunction to stop USDA from enforcing its new County-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) law. A preliminary injunction is typically only granted if the court believes the plaintiffs are likely to win at trial.

In court with AMI will be nine trade associations, including one Mexican and two Canadian livestock-producer groups, as well as six domestic meat organizations. Together they charge that USDA has turned country-of-origin labeling for meat and poultry into illegal and unconstitutional “lifetime itinerary labeling.” They say that USDA’s new rule violates their First Amendment rights, exceeds the agency’s authority and breaks the Administrative Procedures Act by being arbitrary and capricious.

Plaintiffs object to regulations forcing them to produce labels telling where meat is “born, raised and harvested (slaughtered).” They’ve called it a “bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy” that amounts to “compelled speech.” The rules apply to muscle cuts of beef, pork, lamb and goat meat and prohibit so-called “commingling.”

On the eve of today’s hearing, four additional groups asked to intervene in the case on USDA’s side. Led by AMI’s nemesis, the Billings, MT-based R-CALF, USA, also new to the case are the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, the Washington, D.C.-based activist group known as Food and Water Watch, and, also based in Billings, the Western Organization of Resource Councils. Their request to intervene in the case is pending.

The latest four groups seeking entry into the case say the meat industry wants the “right to deceive consumers” with vague and misleading labels to prevent them from finding all-American meat products. R-CALF’s Bill Bullard says that U.S. consumers will buy American if they can identify it in the market, which he says meatpackers and their allies simply want to control.

“Our interest is in preserving COOL for generations to come,” adds Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. “The COOL regulation that requires the meat labels to list each country where the livestock was born, raised and harvested benefits U.S. cattle and sheep producers who can differentiate and promote American-born and -raised livestock in an increasingly international supermarket meat case.”

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, National Farmers Union, American Sheep Industry Association and the Consumer Federation of America were already permitted to intervene in the case to defend the new COOL rule.

This past May, USDA came out with amended regulations for the COOL law, which supposedly were designed to bring the U.S. into compliance with a World Trade Organization finding that the American COOL program violated the Technical Barriers to Trade Treaty. WTO did affirm the right of member countries to label products.

Still, Canada and Mexico are threatening to impose punitive tariffs to compensate for the harm they claim the new COOL rules continue to impose on those countries. They’ve first asked WTO to again rule on whether the new U.S. COOL program violates treaties.

Joining with AMI as plaintiffs in the case are: National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, North American Meat Association, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, National Pork Producers Council, American Association of Meat Processors, Southwest Meat Association and Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.

Hearing the case is U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who just joined the federal bench in March after being nominated by President Obama.

© Food Safety News
  • J T

    Any time an entity is against more transparency, it is because they have something malicious they are trying to hide from you.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    One has an overwhelming urge to attend the court session wearing an “Eat Kale” t-shirt.

  • Carlo Silvestr

    What is being hidden here? Why don’t the consumers have the right to know the provenance of the meat they’re eating? It seems to me that the AMI and its cronies are using every argument, both specious and legitimate to hide knowledge from the consumer. What’s wrong with this picture? Who profits from the hidden information?

  • Wynann

    I am exceeding glad that I don’t eat meat or pork, but I will fight for the right to know where any meat or pork or eggs or anything people eat comes from. If they can’t tell us, then they are trying to hide the crap they sell all for the almightly dollar! And speaking of rights, WHERE ARE THE RIGHTS OF THE COSUMER TO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE BUYING!1???? WHAT’S IN THE FOOD THEY BUY FOR THEIR FAMILIES TO EAT??? All these money making outfits only care about their right to profit at all costs and they don’t give a damn about the RIGHTS of the consumer!

    • Cranios

      Where are your fruits and veggies grown?

  • Kate

    If you buy a pair of socks, a blender or a toy, all have mandatory country of origin labels. Why would labeling be any different for food? It makes no sense to have another labeling standard for any food. Protect the US consumer’s right to know and choose.

  • Mark

    Why don’t the US growers label theirs. If the others label theirs as US meat then it would be illegal.

  • fusejockey

    I’d prefer eating a known commodity. Where was its origin? Safety first; profits second.

  • 14151617

    Because all these folks that are against it want to start slaughtering horses and the EU says it doesn’t want U S horsemeat because of the toxic chemicals in the meat.They don’t want to label because that would stop slaughter for human consuption in the U S and the export of it.Canada and Mexico don’t want it label then they couldn’t ship it either.A lot of contries don’t want our pork be cause of what we put in it.
    All of our rights are being taken away from us because of Big Ag,meat growers,and genetic modification of our foods.
    Others on here are quite correct.If they don’t want us to know the truth the truth must be something we very diffently need to know about.
    When did these compaines get so powerful that our freedom to know is squashed?

  • scott

    If this law goes thru it will create such inflation on all ready high beef costs, expect 25 percent increases on all beef and pork. Read bettween the lines here, the supporters of this bill want to eliminate their competition so they can get more for their product, they know it will be near impossible for supermarkets to track this and most of the retailers will go to all USA to avoid the super high cost of this bill, IF THIS PASSES EXPECT TO PAY MUCH MORE FOR THAT HAMBURGER, AND FORGET ABOUT STEAKS. Less than 40 percent of cattle are born in the U.S., it simply is about money and the supporters of this bill want to eliminate their compitition and that’s all. Resturants will not be required to follow this, I wonder why? Maybe the juice is not worth the squeeze?

    • Cranios

      Or maybe consumers just want to know what they’re eating?

  • guest

    Peopel please check ALL meats in the usa. County market and walmart have meats labled product of canada and mexico this is where horse meat becomes am issue. Demand testing to verify species, if its hidden horse WE need to know.

  • Cranios

    At IKEA, that’s where.