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Meat Interests Take USDA To Court Over COOL Rule

American and Canadian meat organizations find faults in Country of Origin Labeling rules; subsequently sue USDA alleging COOL is unconstitutional.

Published on: Jul 10, 2013

Eight meat industry groups from Canada and the U.S. late Monday filed suit against the USDA in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to stop the recently announced Country of Origin Labeling rules from being fully implemented.

The rule, which requires muscle cuts to be labeled based on where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered, also removes the allowance for meat commingling. The rule language was revised May 23 following objections from Canada and Mexico through the World Trade Organization, which determined COOL was a technical barrier to trade.

American and Canadian meat organizations find faults in Country of Origin Labeling rules; subsequently sue USDA alleging COOL is unconstitutional.
American and Canadian meat organizations find faults in Country of Origin Labeling rules; subsequently sue USDA alleging COOL is unconstitutional.

The groups stand by the WTO decision and say the latest revisions did not address the problem. In its complaint, the coalition alleges that the final rule violates the United States Constitution by compelling speech in the form of detailed labeling on meat products that do not directly advance a government interest. They explain that under the U.S. Constitution, commercial speech may be compelled only where it serves a substantial government interest, such as controlling disease, for example.

"Because these labels offer no food safety or public health benefit, yet impose costs the government modestly estimates at $192 million, the government cannot require them," the coalition argues.

Additionally, the suit claims that the latest revision exceeds the scope of the statutory mandate, because the statute does not permit the kind of labeling requirements the final rule puts in place; and finally that the rule is arbitrary, because it imposes burdens on the industry with little to no benefit.

The COOL ruling has long been met with controversy from several meat and consumer interests. While the organizations filing suit claim the ruling will add unnecessary burden, supporters of the rule say it provides consumers with additional information on which to base purchasing decisions.

But the coalition disagrees. "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," argued Mark Dopp, American Meat Institute senior vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel.

Canadian and Mexican officials previously dismissed the latest COOL changes offered in May, releasing lists of items that could be used to retaliate.

In all, eight organizations joined the suit, including the American Meat Institute (lead plaintiff), 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.

Read more on the COOL Rule:
WTO COOL Review Could Be Telling for Trade
Proposed COOL Changes Met With Mixed Reaction
Coalition Submits COOL Letter To Vilsack
Groups Outline Options for COOL Compliance
COOL Ruled Non-Compliant With WTO Agreement