In papers filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, industry opponents to the U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) law dropped their longstanding case against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This ends the lawsuit, American Meat Institute (AMI) et al. v. U.S. Department of Agriculture et al., originally filed in July 2013 by domestic and international meatpackers and trade groups that sought to strike-down the popular labeling law that informs consumers where the meat they purchase was born, raised, and slaughtered.
“South Dakota Stockgrower members are proud of their USA born and raised cattle and we’re happy the courts have ruled that consumers can continue identifying USA beef with the COOL label,” said SDSGA President Bob Fortune.
The challengers to the COOL law (including meatpacking and allied livestock commodity groups in the United States, Canada and Mexico) lost three rounds of court decisions. The initial request for immediate injunctive relief was rejected by the U.S. District Court in September 2013; a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed that ruling in March 2014, and the entire circuit appeals court overwhelmingly upheld the legitimacy of COOL labels in July. The meatpacker plaintiffs choose not to appeal these recurring defeats to the U.S. Supreme Court and agreed to have their case dismissed.
The meatpacker challengers alleged the COOL law violated their constitutional right to free speech by requiring meat processors to affix these sensible labels. They also alleged that USDA had overreached its statutory authority by requiring retailers to affix labels specifically denoting the country where each of three production steps – born, raised and slaughtered – had occurred.
R-CALF USA, Food & Water Watch, Western Organization for Resource Councils and the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association intervened on behalf of the USDA in the lawsuit along with other farm, commodity and consumer groups. This legal intervention is only part of a longstanding nationwide campaign to enact, implement and protect COOL.
“It is about time the meatpackers abandoned this anti-consumer lawsuit,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Three separate court rulings rejected the industry’s absurd contention that it has a constitutional right to deceive consumers about where food is produced,” said Hauter.
The courts not only upheld USDA’s authority to issue regulations to implement COOL under the 2008 Farm Bill but also affirmed that COOL was designed to satisfy a legitimate consumer disclosure objective as well as promote food safety and public health. The court further rejected the meatpacker-plaintiffs’ contention that labeling meat products with factual and uncontroversial information about livestock production steps would violate their First Amendment free speech rights.
R-CALF USA COOL Committee Chair and Kansas cattle rancherMike Schultz also welcomed the dismissal of the COOL challenge stating, “COOL is necessary to support marketplace competition because only it can empower consumers to act on their choice of where they want their food produced.”
Efforts by consumer and producer groups to defend COOL in the courts have paralleled efforts to defend COOL from meatpacker-backed attacks to eliminate or weaken the integrity of the COOL labels in the U.S. Congress.
“Congress must abandon its efforts to meddle with meat labels, which are overwhelmingly popular with ranchers and consumers,” said WORC. “Even the meatpackers have given up now on their effort to stop COOL in the courts. It’s time for Congress to leave the commonsense labels alone.”