WASHINGTON – Plaintiffs representing meat industry interests in a legal battle over country of origin labeling filed a supplemental brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The federal appeals court overturned an earlier ruling by a three-judge panel denying an injunction against the US Department of Agriculture's COOL rule. The full 12-judge panel will rehear the case May 19.
The case hinges on the question of whether labels on meat packaging must provide additional information about the animal’s travel history. Industry groups have argued that COOL imposes "vast burdens" on the meat industry and that the final COOL rule violates the Constitution's free-speech protections and exceeds USDA's authority under the Agricultural Marketing Act.
The brief stated: "From the beginning, Appellants’ First Amendment claim has turned on one critical question: What governmental interest is served by requiring one subset of meat products (just muscle cuts, just at supermarkets) to identify the country or countries where the source animal was “born,” “raised,” and “slaughtered”? AMS’s answer has changed with the season."
The document goes on to claim that AMS has never explained why an animal's travel history is so important that producers "... "must be compelled rather than simply permitted and provided voluntarily (as they were before) by companies that want to capture the value of consumers’ “patriotic and protectionist” preferences and their “beliefs” about food safety."
The United States already has lost an appeal of a World Trade Organization challenge brought by Canada and Mexico in 2012. Another challenge currently is working through the WTO following a February public hearing on the matter. Both Canada and Mexico have threatened retaliatory trade duties if the WTO rules in their favor.