Groups file suit, say COOL rule violates U.S. Constitution

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The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to free speech. It also protects against the government compelling speech, except when such compelled speech serves a substantial government interest, say the attorneys heading a challenge to the USDA’s new mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) rules for meat.

Constitution Plaintiffs in the suit, filed Monday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, include the American Association of Meat Processors, American Meat Institute (AMI), Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association, and Southwest Meat Association.

In a Tuesday news conference, AMI’s senior VP of regulatory affairs and general counsel Mark Dopp provided some background on the COOL issue. In 2002, he said, mandatory COOL was included in the Farm Bill, and USDA published a rule in 2003. Implementation was delayed for years, and Congress amended the rule in the 2008 Farm Bill. The final rule took effect in 2009, and in that same year Canada and Mexico filed a grievance with the World Trade Organization (WTO). In 2011 a WTO panel ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico and in 2012 the WTO Appellate Body supported that ruling, finding the COOL rule in violation of previous trade agreements, and set a May 2013 deadline for the United States to bring the rule into compliance.

In March, USDA proposed a new rule, which the groups say closely resembles the original, burdensome rule from 2003. The rule became final in May after a public-comment period, essentially unchanged from the proposed version.

The rule, which USDA intended to phase in over six months, requires muscle-cut labels to declare country of origin for three production steps: where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. This provision, the plaintiffs say, places undue burdens on some producers and processing plants, and requires segregation of animals and meat through the production chain.

Even that requirement is complicated by several exemptions, since it covers only muscle cuts and not processed or ground cuts. Dopp provided an example of two hogs, both raised on the same Minnesota farm. One was shipped as a piglet from Canada, the other brought from Iowa at the same stage. At slaughter, muscle cuts from one would require a label saying “Born in Canada, raised and Slaughtered in the United States.” The other would be labeled as “Born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.” If however, some of the pork from either animal is packaged in a marinade or turned into bacon, it is exempt from the labeling law. Meat companies could voluntarily label the products, from either animal, as “Product of the United States.”

In another example, Dopp says beef from two animals, both finished in the same Texas feedyard and slaughtered in the same Texas plant, could not be packaged together if one of the animals was born in Mexico.

Kate Stetson, partner with the law firm Hogan Lovells outlined the grounds for the lawsuit in three areas:

  1. The rule violates the U.S. Constitution by constituting “compelled speech.” 
  2. The rule violates the Agriculture Marketing Act because it exceeds the authority granted to USDA in the 2008 Farm Bill.  While Congress mandated COOL, the statute does not permit labels that detail where animals were born, raised and slaughtered.
  3. The rule is arbitrary and capricious, and will fundamentally alter the meat industry and pick winners and losers in the marketplace with no benefit to anyone, and at great harm to many meat companies, especially those located along U.S.-Mexico or U.S.-Canada borders.

The AMI website has more information and a link to the Power Point presentation used in the news conference.


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tony newbill    
powell butte ore  |  July, 10, 2013 at 09:55 AM

I thought the Constitution only grants these Rights to Legal Citizens of the USA ?

corrine wynne    
July, 10, 2013 at 11:02 AM

Horsemeat, they dont want to label, because horse slaughter is coming to town, anx they dont are hiding in our foods. Do you really have to be a rocket science expert to see why Big Ag Saddled itself with horses it hates. And why they didnt freak out with scandal overseas pertaining to ? Now they want to ship it out bring it back disguised as beef and buy less cattle. Other coutries dont have a sayso in our country under our Declaration. We cannot afford for them to win this lawsuit we have to know what they are selling now more than ever before! This is abuse of the industries power and we should Not Stand for it!

Brad    
arkansas  |  July, 10, 2013 at 11:14 AM

I guess corporations are people! I agree with both of you guys.

Jeremy    
Kansas  |  July, 10, 2013 at 11:56 AM

If I am human, and I buy an apple tree, I am still human. If I sell those apples, I am still human. If I sell lots of apples, I am still human. If I contract with other related parties, I am still human. If I sell shares in my apple tree to other humans, I am still human, and all of my shareholders are still human. I have just created a corporation. Where in the process did I or anybody else stop becoming people? Just because people often choose to pool resources and cooperate doesn't mean they should lose their right to free speech. It wouldn't dawn on anybody to say groups of people shouldn't be allowed to own property or enter into contracts, so why would they loose other rights?

Jeremy    
Kansas  |  July, 10, 2013 at 11:56 AM

If I am human, and I buy an apple tree, I am still human. If I sell those apples, I am still human. If I sell lots of apples, I am still human. If I contract with other related parties, I am still human. If I sell shares in my apple tree to other humans, I am still human, and all of my shareholders are still human. I have just created a corporation. Where in the process did I or anybody else stop becoming people? Just because people often choose to pool resources and cooperate doesn't mean they should lose their right to free speech. It wouldn't dawn on anybody to say groups of people shouldn't be allowed to own property or enter into contracts, so why would they loose other rights?

W F Wright    
Pa  |  July, 10, 2013 at 04:11 PM

I want American!! I want to buy American !!! I want to eat Safe, as best as it can be, American. I want to know where my food comes from. I don't think thats too much to ask for by anybody. Everyone is afraid of people like me who want to know where their food is coming from.

rick    
July, 10, 2013 at 07:04 PM

Correction: I guess "if" corporations are people I agree with both these guys.

rick    
July, 10, 2013 at 07:13 PM

I guess these parties bringing suit just don't get the concerns of many consumers. Many consumers just don't trust corporations enough to really put profit over consumer safety. So now a Chinese corporation has the right to import chinese pork into the US that the Chinese themselves don't trust as safe? And this is Constitutional free speach issue?

Jeremy    
Kansas  |  July, 11, 2013 at 09:45 AM

This is a constitutional speech issue. The freedom to speak implies the freedom to not speak. As with most things, the answer to this issue lies in more liberty. Allow people to label beef that is all American (a practice which is currently prohibited by the government). The program could be very similar to organic labeling, where producers of organic foods have the option to label their food as organic, but those who aren't organic are not required to have a "non-organic" label. If COOL is important to consumers (it's not), they can put their money where their mouths are and buy voluntarily labeled foods.

Tom    
Montana  |  July, 11, 2013 at 12:20 PM

The NCBA gets roughly 85% of their total budget from the beef check off (15% from their membership). They have no right to sue against COOL. The NCBA wants to import cheaper foreign beef and make U.S. consumers think it is U.S. beef. We need strong COOL.

Vaquero    
Southwest  |  July, 11, 2013 at 11:32 PM

How ironic: NCBA whining about free speech while living on checkoff dollars. Gotta love a WTO panel comprised of citizens of Switzerland, Pakistan and Portugal voiding an act of congress and having their decision supported by NCBA. I detest the checkoff and very much resent my money going to NCBA as a checkoff contractor. Its okay for me to be compelled to support government speech but not NCBA with COOL and my checkoff dollars. What hypocrisy!

    
July, 15, 2013 at 05:48 PM

YOU MUST BE AN RCAFER.

maxine    
SD  |  July, 17, 2013 at 07:34 PM

First, there IS beef and other meats in grocery stores identified as to country of origin: Ranchers Rennaisance at SafeWay, Laura's Lean Beef, and many others. All you have to do is look for it. COOL came about because some ranchers wanted that USA label without having to identiry their own ranch of origin, and at government or packer expense rather than doing it themselves. Shoot, they obviously don't even want animal identification for health purposes, as R-CALF fights that. Trade in cattle and beef between the USA, Canada, and Mexico makes sense to me. Breeders have for MANY years sold USA raised breeding stock to cattlemen in both those countries, and also bought from seedstock producers in those nations. How many stockers in the USA have for many years past bought those cheap calves out of Mexico to summer on grass, competing with my family who used to sell 'grass cattle', by the way! It doesn't seem right that now that Mexico, in particular has improved the quality of their cattle, processing and more is shunned as a beef producer by some of our US producers. And that Canada, long sending calves to the USA to be fed and processed, then our citizens shipping the beef back to eastern Canada to seel to consumers isn't good for ALL of us. Creating jobs in the USA, selling seedstock in those countries, and keeping our packing plants busy (ooops! forgot for a moment that packers are evil according to some cattle producer groups in the USA). Freedom to trade, with proper protection, makes sense to me. So........with China needing food, doesn't it make sense that they will be shipping pork from their new facility to their own country????

maxine    
SD  |  July, 17, 2013 at 07:40 PM

FOR THE RECORD: the money NCBA 'gets' from the Beef Checkoff is payment for doing contract work, assigned to them by the CBB (governing body of the beef checkoff comprised of people from ALL national cattle organizations), and is on a cost recovery only basis. NCBA has to do the work, THEN get approval of the costs before receiving ANY money. Further, there are two divisions of NCBA, the dues/policy division operated on dues, AND dues from allied industry members, NOT from checkoff money. The Federation of State Beef Councils is separate, and does operate on checkoff money The two divisions do NOT vote on one anothers issues.


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