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Eight groups representing the U.S. and Canadian meat and livestock industries have filed suit in the U.S. District Court to block implementation of the mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule finalized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May 2013.
In their complaint, the organizations said the final rule violates the United States Constitution by compelling speech in the form of costly and detailed labels on meat products that do not directly advance a government interest. In addition, they said the 2013 regulation exceeds the scope of the statutory mandate, because the statute does not permit the kind of detailed and onerous labeling requirements the final rule puts in place. Finally, they argued that the rule is arbitrary and capricious, because it imposes vast burdens on the industry with little to no countervailing benefit.
Plaintiffs include the American Association of Meat Processors, American Meat Institute, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association, and Southwest Meat Association.
USDA proposed the new rule in March after the World Trade Organization (WTO) panel ruled in response to a complaint by Canada and Mexico that the existing country-of-origin labeling requirements violated the United States’ WTO obligations. According to the industry groups filing the current suit, "USDA made COOL requirements even more complex and discriminatory against foreign meat and livestock, and Canada and Mexico have already made clear that the new rule does nothing to ease the concerns that prompted their original complaint."
The cost of segregating, tracking and labeling meat according to these new rules could force retailers to reject meat sourced from Canada or Mexico and stock only meat with the designation “Born, Raised, and Slaughtered in the United States,” according to the complaint. Specifically, the new labels will need to be larger, and many grocers will have to acquire new weighing and labeling machines to handle the complex sorting of packages for each possible label. Canadian cattle and hog producers have made clear that they will have to accept steep discounts to make up for the downstream production costs faced by processors and retailers, according to the complaint.
“Congress mandated country-of-origin labeling for meat and poultry -- not lifetime itinerary labeling,” said AMI SVP of regulatory affairs and general counsel Mark Dopp. “Segregating and tracking animals according to the countries where production steps occurred and detailing that information on a label may be a bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy, but the labels that result will serve only to confuse consumers, raise the prices they pay, and put some producers and meat and poultry companies out of business in the process. Everyone loses under this rule.”