As part of a lawsuit filed July 8 seeking to block implementation of a mandatory country-of-origin labeling (“COOL”) rule finalized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May 2013, nine organizations representing the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican meat and livestock industries asked the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to grant a preliminary injunction.
In the request filed today, the groups said that they had a high likelihood of success in their case and that enforcement of the rule would cause irreparable harm to the industry and have severe economic impacts that are not in the public interest.
Plaintiffs 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, which joined the lawsuit this week.
The plaintiffs assert that they “are very likely to succeed on the merits and the Final Rule will likely be vacated. But if it is not enjoined in the meantime, the Final Rule will irreparably harm meat-industry participants. Plaintiffs are trade organizations that represent regulated entities facing immediate and substantial burdens and costs under the Final Rule.”
The injunction request follows the complaint and 1) outlines the burden to the plaintiffs’ First Amendment speech rights; 2) explains that the rule exceeds the authority granted to USDA in the 2008 Farm Bill; and 3) demonstrates that the rule is arbitrary and capricious, offering little benefit to consumers while fundamentally altering the meat and poultry industry.
The plaintiffs assert that “AMS does not claim that the new ‘Born, Raised, and Slaughtered’ disclosures are related to ‘protecting consumers from commercial harms.’ …. After all, in AMS’s own words ‘the COOL program is neither a food safety or traceability program …’.”
The request also states that “The agency … appears ambivalent at best about the actual value of this information to consumers. But the First Amendment does not permit the government to resolve a tie in favor of compelling speech: ‘If the First Amendment means anything, it means that regulating speech must be a last—not first—resort’.”
Because of these factors, the plaintiffs request an immediate injunction against implementation of the COOL Final Rule during the pendency of the litigation.
USDA proposed the new rule in March after the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in response to a complaint by Canada and Mexico that the existing country-of-origin labeling requirements violated the United States’ WTO obligations. In a highly illogical move, USDA made COOL requirements even more complex and discriminatory against foreign meat and livestock, and Canada and Mexico have already made clear that the new rule does nothing to ease the concerns that prompted their original complaint.