A District of Columbia federal judge declined Thursday to issue a preliminary injunction stopping USDA’s latest Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations from going into effect. The ruling means U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji B. Jackson does not think the plaintiffs, led by the American Meat Institute (AMI), are likely to be successful in their statutory challenge to the final COOL rules.
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, which is responsible for implementing COOL, issued a statement praising Judge Jackson’s decision, while the coalition of U.S., Canadian and Mexican meat organizations announced it would appeal the ruling.
AMI President J. Patrick Boyle told The Hagstrom Report, a subscriber news service, that the plaintiffs “disagree strongly” with Jackson’s decision and intend to appeal. John Dillard, an attorney representing the North American Meat Association, said the litigation is “far from settled.”
Jackson went only a couple days beyond her promise to deliver a decision within 14 days of the date last month when attorneys made oral arguments on the motion for an preliminary injunction.
AMI, North American Meat Association and half-dozen other associations representing the meat industry sued USDA over the COOL rules on July 8. They argued that the rule requiring them to list where fresh meat was born, raised and harvested goes well beyond what the COOL law demands.
Jackson said USDA “did the best it could” to implement requirements contained in the 2008 Farm Bill. She said USDA was justified in making the requirements in order to avoid consumer deception or confusion. The plaintiffs said that the final COOL rule, which became effective May 23, amounts to the unconstitutional compelling of commercial speech.
On USDA’s side in defending COOL are the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, National Farmers Union, American Sheep Industry Association and the Consumer Federation of American. Those groups say the final COOL rule allows domestic cattle producers to differentiate their products from foreign beef.
Farmers Union President Roger Johnson issued a statement that COOL protects consumers’ rights to know where their food comes from.
USDA was forced to re-write its COOL regulations after the World Trade Organization found they did not comply with international treaties. Canada has asked WTO to give the new rule a compliance review.© Food Safety News