Meat labeling rules face legal challenge from industry

The groups contend that Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) standards finalized in May violate their First Amendment protection from compelled speech, since they would require costly labeling systems on meat that would not directly further a government interest.

The COOL regulations, drawn up by the Agriculture Department, require more specific labeling give more information about where meat products were born, raised and slaughtered. Under the rule, the label on a cut of beef could theoretically read “Born in Mexico, raised in Canada, slaughtered in the U.SA.”

The rule is meant to both provide consumers with more information and bring the United States in compliance with international standards, following a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling that previous labeling practices were unfair to Mexico and Canada.

The two countries are the United States’ top two meat-trading partners, and could retaliate with damaging retaliatory tariffs unless the U.S. is deemed in compliance. The WTO has not made a determination of whether the new COOL rules remedy the violation.

The industry has argued that the best way to comply would be to scrap COOL labels altogether. The new rules, they contend, would force meat packers to implement new livestock segregation, record keeping and packaging practices, costing millions of dollars.

“The costs associated with this new inefficient process will drive some processors dependent on imports out of business and destroy the market for meat from imported livestock,” the industry groups charge in the lawsuit filed federal district court in Washington, D.C.

Joining the suit are the American Association of Meat Processors, the American Meat Institute, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association, and Southwest Meat Association.

“Because there is no legitimate justification for the new “Born, Raised, and Slaughtered” regime, and because these new rules will impose significant burdens on and radically restructure the way meat is produced and packaged in this country, Defendants’ new COOL regulations violate the First Amendment,” the lawsuit states.

The Agriculture Department and Secretary Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE are listed as defendants.