BILLINGS, Mont. – The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) continues to make its case that imported beef products labeled as made in the USA have hurt domestic beef producers.
In a recent filing in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, R-CALF and the Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW) submitted additional documentation the groups say support their allegations the Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s failure to enforce federal law has helped “…multinational meatpackers mislabel hundreds of millions of pounds of imported beef as “Products of the USA.””
R-CALF and Cattle Producers of Washington sued USDA for violations of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) in June 2017.
But the producer organizations argue that the Tariff Act of 1930 requires imported beef to bear a country-of-origin label unless the beef is substantially transformed in the US. However, the US Dept. of Agriculture argued that imported beef can be treated as domestic beef if the exporting country’s food safety standards meet US equivalency standards. The groups say this interpretation of federal law has led to imported beef being labeled as a US product even if the beef only received minor processing such as unwrapping and rewrapping of a package.
“Plaintiffs do not seek to reinstate the 2002 COOL law,” court documents state. “Plaintiffs merely want USDA to effectuate the requirements of the FMIA, which incorporates the Tariff Act’s labeling requirements — that country-of-origin labels must appear on imported meat until it undergoes a substantial transformation in the United States.”
The federal government countered that the lawsuit is “…an effort to do an end run around Congress’s statutory mandate” removing beef and pork from mandatory country of origin labeling requirements. In 2015, Congress repealed mandatory country of origin labeling for beef and pork as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), or Omnibus bill.
“Congress’s express legislative direction to the agency in the 2016 CAA should be the end of this case,” court documents state. “That is because it is the most recent and most specific legislative direction from Congress on the issue of country of origin labeling for meat and meat food products and is therefore controlling.”