WASHINGTON – A federal judge denied a request from US and Canadian meat industry groups to delay enforcement of US country-of-origin labeling rules.
In July, meat industry groups sued USDA in US District Court to overturn COOL. The groups argued that the final COOL rule violates the Constitution; exceeds USDA's authority under the Agricultural Marketing Act; and "runs afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act.” The groups requested an injunction while the lawsuit is pending.
But US District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson disagreed. In her ruling the judge said the focus of the case was on compelled commercial speech, which is generally held to "less exacting constitutional standards".
Judge Jackson said that the plaintiffs "appear to conflate the burden that they claim the Final Rule places on their finances with the burden it places on their speech.
"In the First Amendment context, it is the burden on speech, not pocketbook, that matters."
Judge Jackson went on to say that "it is well established that, when the compelled speech is commercial and purely factual in nature, the speaker’s First Amendment rights are not unduly burdened “‘as long as [the] disclosure requirements are reasonably related to the [government’s] interest in preventing deception of consumers.’”
The judge also said the government would likely prevail because arguments on the merits of the plaintiff's case favor the government.
"This decision will have real consequences and we still believe that the law is on our side in this matter," said Jeremy Russell, director of communications and government relations for the North American Meat Association. "We intend to appeal this decision to protect the interests of our members."
NAMA joined the American Meat Institute in the lawsuit along with the American Association of Meat Processors, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, Confedaracion Nacional de Organizaciones Ganaderas, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council and the Southwest Meat Association.
“We disagree strongly with the court’s decision and believe that several aspects of the ruling are susceptible to challenge and we intend to pursue them on appeal,” said J. Patrick Boyle, AMI President and CEO.