The federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected a challenge to the Agriculture Department’s meat labeling rules, delivering the latest in a series of blows to industry groups that oppose the regulations as needlessly burdensome.
Upholding previous rulings, the court let stand the department's country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements for cuts of meat.
Still, Tuesday’s ruling bodes well for the requirements, which the American Meat Institute (AMI) and other industry challengers assailed as unnecessary in the appeals court proceedings.
Ultimately, the court found that the regulations satisfy a legitimate government interest to provide consumers with more information about where their steaks and tenderloins come from.
“AMI disparages the government’s interest as simply being that of satisfying consumers’ ‘idle curiosity,’” the court recounted in its decision. “Country-of-origin information has an historical pedigree that lifts it well above idle curiosity."
The court argued that Congress has imposed similar mandates for more than a century, dating back as far as 1890.
AMI had sought a preliminary injunction to block the rule’s implementation, charging that the regulations violate industry’s constitutional protection against compelled speech.
The industry has warned the regulations would be economically devastating and would potentially drive some meat processors out of business.
“We have maintained all along that the country of origin rule harms livestock producers and the industry and affords little benefit to consumers. This decision will perpetuate those harms.” said AMI interim President and CEO James H. Hodges. “We will evaluate our options moving forward.”
Issued in 2012 and finalized last year, the so-called COOL regulations require that meat packaging give more information about where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered.
For instance, the label on a cut of beef could theoretically read, “Born in Mexico, raised in Canada, slaughtered in the U.S.A.” under the regulations.
The regulations were updated in response to a 2012 WTO ruling that previous labeling practices were unfair to Mexico and Canada.
The two countries, the United States’ top two meat-trading partners, could retaliate with damaging tariffs if the WTO determines the new rules do not meet international standards.
The WTO has yet to publicly weigh in on the 2013 fix.