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COOL under fire; lawsuit filed against U.S. government
In the ongoing saga of regulations regarding mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), a new chapter is being written, but with a twist. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service posted the revised regulations in the May 24 Federal Register and is in the process of a six-month outreach program to explain the rules, a lawsuit has been filed by U.S. and Canadian organizations.
The new labeling requirements are for muscle cut commodities derived from animals slaughtered in the United States, such as beef and pork. The new requirements brought the United States into compliance with a World Trade Organization ruling regarding mandatory COOL. It involves specifying the country of origin (birth) of the animal, and where it was raised and slaughtered.
The American Meat Institute, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Association, and the Southwest Meat Association of College Station, along with four other organizations, united to file suit July 9 against the USDA and the Agricultural Marketing Service in the U.S. District Court.
Among their complaints is the ban on commingling meat from different countries. The lack of commingling meat is just one of three areas cited in the lawsuit by Mark Dopp, American Meat Institute senior vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel, in a July 9 teleconference.
“The new rule puts meat processing plants and livestock operations, especially along the Canadian and Mexican borders, at risk of going out of business,” Dopp said. He forecasts plants will be put at risk if retailers abandon “mixed products.”
Catherine Stetson, a partner with the Hogan Lovells US LLP, said the rule “doesn’t cure the WTO [World Trade Organization] violation.” The meat and livestock groups charge that the new regulations are a violation of the First Amendment.
The groups contend that “government may compel speech only when there is a substantial government interest, e.g., a warning about a contagious disease where the warning provides public health protection.”
Stetson said, “... ‘Consumer curiosity’ is not a substantial government interest ... and the rules might confuse the consumers.”
The plaintiffs also contend that the new rules “exceed authority granted by the Agricultural Marketing Act.”
Stetson said the groups are not seeking monetary damages from USDA.
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