COOL Case Goes Under Review—Again

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently announced that it will review en banc the case that declares USDA’s Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) rule unconstitutional.

This follows the March 28, 2014 ruling that had the court upholding COOL, saying the rule can indeed be enforced—a move applauded by rancher and consumer groups.

The previous decision by the court was vacated on April 4. At the suggestion of the original three-judge panel, a majority of the judges on the court voted to rehear the case. Oral arguments will be taken on May 19, 2014.

COOL would require labels on packaged steaks, ribs, and other cuts of meat to not only list country of origin, but also when and where the animals were born, raised, and slaughtered. Meat and livestock trade groups, including the American Meat Institute (AMI), originally filed a case on July 8, 2013 against the implementation of USDA’s May 2013 final rule on COOL.

AMI is encouraged by the court’s recent decision to vacate ruling in COOL lawsuit and rehear en banc.

“We had strong concerns with the reasoning in the March 28 ruling,” said Mark Dopp, AMI senior vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel, in a recent statement released April 4. “Today’s court order to vacate the ruling signals that some members of the court may share those concerns. We remain hopeful that consideration of the case by the full court will lead to an injunction against the protectionistic and costly country of origin labeling rule that is hurting livestock producers and meat companies while offering little benefit to consumers.

“In the complaint, AMI and our co-plaintiffs 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,” continued Dopp. “We also 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.”

On the flip side, ranchers see the labeling law as a way to promote their made-in-the-U.S.A. products and consumer groups say labeling will help consumers make informed choices.

According to a new report, consumers are demanding more transparency from food companies. The whitepaper, “Emerging Faith in Food Production,” by Sullivan Higdon & Sink FoodThink reports that nearly 2 out of 3 consumers (65 percent) want to know more about where their food comes from. In addition, 67 percent would like to see the food industry take more action in educating people on how food is produced; only 34 percent say the agriculture industry is transparent.


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