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