THE U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated a ruling issued March 28 that vacated a request for a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law that the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated in May 2013.
The court will hear oral arguments before the full court at 9:30 a.m. May 19. The parties — including amici parties — have until April 18 to refile briefs that initially were filed in the case and can file simultaneous supplemental briefs by April 21.
The follow-up briefs are to address whether, under the First Amendment, judicial review of mandatory disclosure of "purely factual and uncontroversial" commercial information, compelled for reasons other than preventing deception, can be required.
American Meat Institute (AMI) senior vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel Mark Dopp said the ruling signals that some of the members of the court may share AMI's concerns about the March 28 ruling.
In their complaint, AMI and the co-plaintiffs claim that the final COOL rule violates the U.S. Constitution by compelling speech in the form of costly and detailed labels on meat products that do not directly advance a government interest.
They also claim 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."
"We remain hopeful that consideration of the case by the full court will lead to an injunction against the protectionist and costly country-of-origin labeling rule that is hurting livestock producers and meat companies while offering little benefit to consumers," Dopp said.
Meanwhile, supporters of COOL have continued to lobby against legislative riders or targeted funding restrictions for COOL in agricultural appropriations.
When asked about the future of COOL, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), who helped foster a compromise on COOL during the last farm bill, said Congress likely will wait to see the World Trade Organization's decision on the fate of COOL this summer and then will attempt to provide a legislative response.
Regardless of if WTO decides in favor of the updated USDA COOL rule or sides with Canada and Mexico, Peterson projected that neither side will give up the fight.