Meat Industry Suffers Another Setback in Labeling Lawsuit

An industry lawsuit to stop a USDA rule requiring country-of-origin labeling on meat products hit a roadblock this week, as an appeals court ruled in favor of the agency—for a second time.

A regulatory fight that brings together free-speech questions and T-bone steaks isn’t going well for the meat industry at the moment.

The American Meat Institute’s (AMI) legal challenge to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule suffered another setback this week, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the rule did not constitute compelled speech.

It’s the second time the appeals court has held against the industry in the case. In March, a three-judge panel of the DC Circuit rejected the industry’s request for an injunction blocking the rule from taking effect. Days later, the full court announced it would rehear the case.

A number of trade groups—including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association, and others—joined AMI in the lawsuit, first filed a year ago.

While the case rests on the First Amendment claim, the industry is also concerned about the potential costs of complying with the rule, which the USDA has estimated as ranging from $53.1 million to $192.1 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In a statement, AMI interim President and CEO James Hodges said the group would consider its options after the ruling.

“The court’s decision today is disappointing,” Hodges said. “We have maintained all along that the country-of-origin rule harms livestock producers and the industry and affords little benefit to consumers. This decision will perpetuate those harms.”

The meat industry’s next step may be in Congress. In late June, a number of agricultural and food industry trade groups asked lawmakers to suspend the COOL rule if the World Trade Organization finds that it violates international trade regulations. The WTO is currently reviewing a complaint brought by Mexico and Canada alleging that the rule discriminates against their products.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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