Court upholds meat labeling law; consumers will know its origin

Meat industry loses challenge to labeling law

A federal law requiring meatpackers and processors to list where livestock was born, raised and slaughtered survived another legal challenge from the meat industry.

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the labeling law did not violate free speech in compelling the meat industry to disclose to consumers the origins of their products.

The so-called country-of-origin labeling law, or COOL, was introduced late last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a way to strengthen food safety and boost transparency at a time when meat has become a highly globalized business. 

Major meatpackers and processors such as Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. charged that the law was wasteful and costly. They argued that the U.S. already had stringent food safety regulations and worried the law would hurt demand for imported meat.

The meat industry challenged the rule largely through its chief trade group, the American Meat Institute. The ruling Tuesday marks the second time in a year the group has lost in court. A U.S. District Court judge in Washington ruled in favor of the USDA in July 2013.

“The court’s decision today is disappointing,” James H. Hodges, interim president and chief executive of the American Meat Institute, said in a written statement. “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. We will evaluate our options moving forward.”

The USDA estimated that compliance would cost the meat industry $53.1 million to $192.1 million.

Part of that cost would be in infrastructure upgrades to eliminate almost all commingling – the combining of herds from different countries.

With the exception of ground beef production, livestock will now have to be separated according to their country of origin, the American Meat Institute said.

Supporters of the law welcomed the court decision Tuesday.

“We applaud the D.C. Circuit decision, which is an important victory for the U.S. public’s right to know how their food is produced,” George Kimbrell, senior attorney at the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, said in a prepared statement. “The court confirmed that manufacturers do not have the right to avoid basic factual disclosures about their food products.”

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