Appellate court upholds COOL

Federal court denies appeal on the request for preliminary injunction on implementing mandatory country-of-origin labeling.

Friday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied plaintiffs’ appeal of a denial of their request for a preliminary injunction on the implementation of mandatory labeling. The preliminary injunction would prevent revised Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations from remaining in effect while the plaintiffs’ lawsuit challenging the COOL regulations proceeds.

The ruling affirms a Sept. 11, 2013, decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that also denied the request for a preliminary injunction. As a result of the decision, the revised COOL regulations will remain in place while the case is pending.

The case was filed on July 8, 2013, by the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn., American Meat Institute, Canadian Cattlemen's Assn., Canadian Pork Council, North American Meat Assn., American Assn. of Meat Processors, National Pork Producers Council, Southwest Meat Assn. and Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.

Chase Adams, spokesperson for NCBA, said the court affirmed the decision of the circuit court, contrary to their argument that COOL violates the U.S. Constitution.

Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president, said he was extremely pleased with the decision. “Yet again, claims that the revised COOL regulations are unconstitutional or inconsistent with the COOL statute have been rejected in federal court.”

NFU, together with the United States Cattlemen’s Assn., the American Sheep Industry Assn. and the Consumer Federation of America, intervened to defend the COOL regulations from challenge, and they actively participated in a briefing at the District Court and the Court of Appeals, as well as the preliminary injunction hearing at the District Court.

The Federal Appeals Court ruling suggests that the entire Circuit Court might want to hear the merits of the meatpackers’ challenge that accurate and precise COOL production step labels violate their freedom of speech. But, the Circuit Court may not see this as necessary and the case could return directly to the District Court for a final ruling.

Adams said NCBA will now need to look at the World Trade Organization case currently underway. “We still believe that in the end we are looking at retaliation by Canada and Mexico,” he said.

In a statement from groups supporting mandatory COOL, the groups said the court’s decision bolstered the interpretation of the WTO ruling that appeared to object to “the relative imprecision of the information required by the 2009 rule.”

The “imprecision” of the earlier COOL rule’s labels was what the groups claimed was “confusing” wording such as the “commingled” mixed-origin label that allowed meat from all-American born and raised livestock to be labeled as if it were a product of multiple countries. “The Appeals Court recognized that this imprecision was remedied by USDA’s final 2013 rule that required born, raised and slaughtered production step labels,” the statement said.

The Court of Appeals also explained that COOL labels can be seen as a sign that retailers “take pride in identifying the source of their products,” Johnson shared.

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