Judge swats down challenge to meat labels

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But Judge Ketanji Jackson, in her ruling, tossed out that argument and declared that the label rules were being issued as ordered by Congress to clear up consumers’ confusion about where their meat was coming from.

“Here, there is clearly a reasonable relationship between the government’s interest in preventing consumer confusion about the origins of muscle cut meat, on the one hand, and the required disclosure of specific production step information, on the other,” she wrote in the 76-page ruling.

Anyway, she added, the meat producers challenging the label rule claim that it may hurt their bottom line. That, however, is not a violation of the Constitution.

“In the First Amendment context, it is the burden on speech, not pocketbook, that matters,” she wrote.

The new country-of-origin labeling (COOL) regulations were issued in May as a means of resolving a finding by the World Trade Organization that the U.S. had been giving its own meat products an unfair advantage over those from Canada and Mexico. 

Meat labels resulting from the rule, set to go into effect in November, could theoretically read something like “Born in Canada, raised in Mexico, slaughtered in the U.S.A.”

The rule would also prevent producers from commingling different muscle cuts.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who has been outspoken on food issues, was responsible for updating the rule as a provision of the 2008 farm bill and praised the judge’s ruling.

“This decision is great news for American consumers,” she said in a statement. “The country-of-origin labeling requirements should begin as scheduled in November so families have a complete story on where their food came from. Big business and their supporters have been trying to delay these requirements from going into effect, but that would be a step backward and must not be allowed to happen.”

The preliminary injunction case was brought by trade groups representing American, Canadian and Mexican meat companies, including the American Meat Institute, the Canadian Pork Council and the North American Meat Association.