Industry appeals ruling on USDA meat labeling regulations

The groups on Tuesday filed their first brief in support of the appeal with the D.C. Circuit court of Appeals, less than two weeks after a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia blocked their bid for an injunction blocking the contentious rule.

The brief contends the trial court wrongly sided with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) case that the labeling rule is needed “to correct misleading speech and prevent consumer deception.”

The so-called Country-of-Origin labeling (COOL) rules were finalized in May and require cuts of meet to carry specific information about where animals used in meat products were born, raised and slaughtered.

The new rules, for instance, might yield labels on a side of beef reading, “Born in Mexico, raised in Canada, slaughtered in the U.SA.”

Beyond providing consumers with more information, the new regulations are designed to bring the United States in compliance with international standards.

Last year, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that previous labeling practices were unfair to Mexico and Canada. The nations, the United States’ top two meat-trading partners, 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 groups, meanwhile, issued a legal challenge in July on grounds that the regulations violate their First Amendment protection from compelled speech. The rules, they say, would require costly labeling systems on meat that would not directly further a government interest.

“No court has ever before applied lesser scrutiny for compelled speech in such circumstances,” the groups charge in the brief filed Tuesday.

Appellants in the case 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, Southwest Meat Association and Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.