The American Meat Institute (AMI) and seven other meat and livestock organizations filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to block implementation of a mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule finalized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May 2013.
In their complaint, the meat and livestock organizations explained that the final rule violates the United States Constitution by compelling speech in the form of costly and detailed labels on meat products that do not directly advance a government interest. In addition, the organizations explained that the 2013 regulation exceeds the scope of the statutory mandate, because the statute does not permit the kind of detailed and onerous labeling requirements the final rule puts in place, and that the rule is arbitrary and capricious, because it imposes vast burdens on the industry with little to no countervailing benefit.
In addition to AMI, plaintiffs include the American Association of Meat Processors, 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 the complaint, the organizations explained that the new and complex country-of-origin labels required for meat and poultry sold at retail constitute “compelled speech.” Under the U.S. Constitution, commercial speech may be compelled only where it serves a substantial government interest—for example, if the compelled speech is aimed at preventing the spread of a contagious disease. Because these labels offer no food safety or public health benefit, yet impose costs the government modestly estimates at $192 million, the government cannot require them.
“Congress mandated country-of-origin labeling for meat and poultry — not lifetime itinerary labeling,” Dopp concluded. “Segregating and tracking animals according to the countries where production steps occurred and detailing that information on a label may be a bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy, but the labels that result will serve only to confuse consumers, raise the prices they pay, and put some producers and meat and poultry companies out of business in the process. Everyone loses under this rule.”