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 implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL).
The preliminary injunction would have prevented the U.S. Department of Agriculture's revised 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. (NCBA), American Meat Institute, Canadian Cattlemen's Assn., Canadian Pork Council, North American Meat Assn., American Association 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 despite the plaintiffs' argument that COOL violates the U.S. Constitution.
National Farmers Union (NFU) president Roger Johnson 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," he said.
NFU, along with the U.S. Cattlemen's Assn., the American Sheep Industry Assn. and the Consumer Federation of America, intervened to defend the COOL regulations from being challenged, and they actively participated in a briefing at the district court and the court of appeals as well as at 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 meat packers' challenge that accurate and precise origin labels for production steps violate their freedom of speech. However, 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 now will look at the World Trade Organization case underway regarding Canada and Mexico's challenge to COOL. The WTO case was heard in February, and a ruling is expected in June.
"We still believe that, in the end, we are looking at retaliation by Canada and Mexico," Adams said.
In a statement, the Canadian Cattlemen's Assn. said it is "confident that the WTO will find that the U.S. is not in compliance with its international trade obligations" and will encourage the government of Canada to retaliate if the discriminatory impact of COOL remains unresolved.
Groups supporting mandatory COOL said in a statement 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 (COOL) rule."
The groups said this "imprecision" of the earlier COOL rule's labels includes "confusing" wording such as the "commingled" mixed-origin label that allowed meat from 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.