Groups Lose Bid to Block COOL Labeling


by Andrew Zajac

North American meat producers including Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) and Hormel Foods Corp. (HRL) lost a bid to suspend new country-of-origin labeling rules as a U.S. appeals court said the regulations don’t violate free speech rights or exceed regulators’ authority.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington in a decision today said the groups seeking to delay the rule until a lower court could decide the merits of the case were unlikely to succeed in either their free speech arguments or their claim the U.S. Department of Agriculture had gone too far with its labeling rules.

The regulations, which were adopted in May and took full effect in November, require producers to specify the country or countries where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Retail packages can’t mix muscle cuts from different countries under a general label.

Country-of-origin labeling is a bane to meatpackers, who, led by the American Meat Institute, argued that it forces them to segregate animals and raises costs. Canada and Mexico are challenging the labeling before the World Trade Organization, claiming that it unfairly harms their exports by making record-keeping for international herds too onerous.

“The AMI’s argument that the rule unlawfully ‘bans’ commingling fails at a key first step — the 2013 rule does not actually ban any element of the production process,” U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Williams wrote for the three-judge panel. “The necessary changes to production are, to be sure, costly for the packers but, contrary to AMI’s claim, the new rule does not ‘force the segregated handling of animals with varying geographical histories.’”

The issue has divided the U.S. livestock industry. Some American producers favor the labeling because it enables consumers to identify domestically produced meat. Others object, saying it raises costs.

Meat industry groups including the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the National Pork Producers Council appealed U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s decision in September declining to put the Department of Agriculture labeling regulation on hold because the opponents hadn’t shown they’d suffer irreparable harm. Arguments on the merits of the case favored the government, she said.

The case is American Meat Institute v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 13-5281, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia (Washington).


Source:  Bloomberg

Posted by Haylie Shipp



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