Nine U.S., Canadian and Mexican meat and livestock organizations this week officially appealed a September 11 District Court decision that denied a request for preliminary injunction that would have blocked implementation of the USDA's final rule on country-of-origin labeling.
The groups say USDA's latest COOL rule, which was revised in May, 2013 after previously being ruled inconsistent with World Trade Organization rules, continues to be a barrier to trade with neighboring countries. The rule requires meat labels to include information about where the originating animal was born, raised and slaughtered.
The appeal brief offered by opposing groups argues that the trial court incorrectly accepted the Agricultural Marketing Service's argument, which they say is inconsistent with rationale offered by AMS in the final rule, that the new final rule "is to correct misleading speech and prevent consumer deception" that purportedly occurred because of requirements AMS imposed in its 2009 version of the rule.
The appellants also contend that when the trial court accepted AMS' rationalization, it applied the wrong legal standard regarding the First Amendment and compelled speech because the mandated labels at issue are not voluntary deceptive advertising.
"There is no such voluntary misleading advertisement here; AMS is the source of the alleged 'deception'," the brief says. "No court has ever before applied lesser scrutiny for compelled speech in such circumstances."
The group says because of their two complaints that show the court was in the wrong to deny an immediate injunction, and because of the market harm that could come from continued observance of the USDA's COOL rule, the court should approve the injunction appeal.
The latest in a continuing debate
The lawsuit to block implementation of the COOL rule was originally filed July 8, 2013 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. A motion for preliminary injunction was filed July 26, 2013.
In addition to claiming that the final rule violates the United States Constitution by compelling speech in the form labels on meat products that do not directly advance a substantial government interest, they say the 2013 regulation exceeds the scope of the statutory mandate because the statute does not permit the requirements the final rule puts in place.
Finally, the groups say that the rule is arbitrary and capricious, because it imposes vast burdens on the industry with little to no countervailing benefit.
Groups in favor of COOL maintain that it provides needed information to consumers making purchasing decisions.
Appellants in the case and opponents of COOL include the American Association of Meat Processors, American Meat Institute, Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Canadian Pork Council, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association, Southwest Meat Association and Mexico's National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.
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