Food Safety Magazine

News | September 26, 2013

Meat Groups Appeal Court Decision to Deny Injunction Against COOL


Source: Agri-Pulse

Nine national or regional meat and livestock organizations from the United States, Canada and Mexico have appealed the Sept. 11 decision by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to deny their request for a preliminary injunction to block implementation of USDA's May 2013 final rule on country-of-origin labeling (COOL).

The industry's initial brief contends that Jackson erred in accepting the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) argument, which they say is inconsistent with the rationale the agency used in the final rule, that the final rule “is to correct misleading speech and prevent consumer deception” that purportedly occurred because of requirements AMS imposed in its 2009 rule. “Even putting aside the absurdity of a government agency referring to itself as an agent of ‘deception,' the District Court should have rejected AMS's belated declaration because it was a plainly impermissible post hoc rationalization,” it says. “Yet the District Court accepted it anyway.”

The industry groups' attorneys also believe that Jackson applied the wrong legal standard regarding the First Amendment and compelled speech because the mandated labels at issue are not voluntary deceptive advertising. “There is no such voluntary misleading advertisement here; AMS is the source of the alleged ‘deception',” the brief says. “No court has ever before applied lesser scrutiny for compelled speech in such circumstances.”

The original lawsuit to block implementation of the COOL rule was <a data-cke-saved-href=" filed July 8, 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A motion for preliminary injunction was filed July 26, 2013. The plaintiffs are 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, Southwest Meat Association and Mexico's National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.

Their brief contends that the final rule violates the constitution by compelling speech in the form of “costly and detailed labels on meat products that do not directly advance a substantial government interest.” They also say that the regulation exceeds the scope of the law because the statute does not permit the kind of detailed and onerous labeling requirements the final rule puts in place. They contend further that the rule would impose “vast burdens on the industry with little to no countervailing benefit.”

The May 2013 rule was published by AMS in response to a World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement Panel ruling, which found that the 2009 mandatory-country of origin labeling for meat products rule violated the United States' WTO obligations. Mandatory country of origin labeling is currently in effect for many meat products.