A DISTRICT court judge denied a petition for a preliminary injunction on whether or not to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to move forward with implementation of an updated country-of-origin (COOL) rule that would require the labeling of where an animal is born, raised and slaughtered in the meat case.
Plaintiffs argued in oral arguments Aug. 27 that the COOL rule violates their First Amendment rights by compelling speech as well as exceeds the agency's authority and breaks the Administrative Procedures Act by being arbitrary and onerous.
The American Meat Institute is leading the plaintiffs, along with the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA), North American Meat Assn. (NAMA), Canadian Cattlemen's Assn., Canadian Pork Council, National Pork Producers Council, American Association of Meat Processors, Southwest Meat Assn. and Mexico's National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.
Chandler Goule, National Farmers Union (NFU) vice president of government relations, said the court's decision and opinion were extremely thorough and addressed each argument that was made.
"The decision and order properly, in our view, rejected the preliminary injunction motion of the plaintiffs," he said.
Among its findings, the court found that the plaintiffs had not carried out their burden to demonstrate irreparable injury, Goule said.
In the judge's ruling, the court document explained that "the court has no trouble concluding that experience and common sense dictates that there was a likelihood of consumer confusion under the prior COOL program."
The ruling went on to explain how when USDA updated the COOL rule, its objective was to provide consumers with additional information.
"The final rule sufficiently establishes that the regulation was intended to address the possibility of consumer confusion regarding the origin of covered commodities," the judge explained.
"Perhaps more importantly, the court found that public interest, based on likelihood of success, favored the defendants in the case," Goule said. "We could not be more happy about that ruling. We have said that consumers want to know where their food comes from, and I think this decision proves that as well."
NCBA president Scott George said the group was disappointed in the latest ruling.
"We had hoped that the court would understand that this failed rule by USDA will cost the industry in excess of $100 million in recordkeeping and increased labeling costs, all for a rule that will very likely not be found to meet with our international trade obligations," George noted.
"This decision will have real consequences, and at a time of rising meat prices and record-low herd size, they will be damaging," NAMA chief executive officer Barry Carpenter said. "In the absence of preliminary relief, NAMA members and the industry at large will suffer irreparable harm."
Collin Woodall, vice president of government affairs at NCBA, added that he expects the extra costs associated with retailers and packers needed to acquire new equipment, labels and recordkeeping needs to be passed on to producers, not consumers. The final rule estimated costs at $53-137 million, and Woodall said those will be placed on the industry "that won't be getting any kind of return" on that investment.
Woodall noted that this ruling was just one of many steps in the process the industry is looking at in trying to find relief from COOL. He said NCBA will be looking at all of its options, including a potential fix within the farm bill.
Plaintiffs in the case said they plan to appeal the decision. Chase Adams, director of communications at NCBA, said he doesn't have an estimation right now of what that timeline will look like, "but we feel that it is important to keep this process moving expediently as our members are facing a real economic impact as a result of the final rule."
Goule said NFU will continue to work with the other interveners, should any other action be taken, in order to see that the COOL regulations are upheld and implemented.