Groups fight COOL

Steak-on-Plate_blogSome of the meat industry’s largest trade groups are challenging the U.S.’s newest version of its country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law.

The eight groups, which represent producers in the beef and pork industries from across North America, say COOL 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,” according to a statement from the North American Meat Association, one of the groups that filed the suit earlier this week in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

They argue that COOL doesn’t offer food safety or public health benefits yet will cost millions, and therefore labeling cannot be compelled. Additionally, they argue the rule exceeds the authority given to the USDA in the 2008 Farm Bill and that it is “arbitrary and capricious”.

Previously, U.S. officials have said the changes to COOL would bring the U.S. into compliance with the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling as well as improve how COOL works. Some consumer groups also have said COOL could help improve food safety and that consumers have the right to know where the products they buy come from.

Since the publication of the final rule, tensions surrounding COOL have been rising. Last month, Canada released a list of 37 commodities that could be up for retaliatory tariffs if the issue around COOL isn’t resolved.

Since last summer, U.S. and Canada have been at odds over the rule, which also has been the subject of a WTO ruling. The final rule published by the USDA on May 23 (the same day as the WTO Appellate Body deadline to comply with its ruling) changes how “muscle cut” commodities are labeled. The rule now requires the origin designation to include information not only on where the meat came from (currently often listed as “Product of the U.S.”), but specifically where each step occurred such as where the animal was born, where it was raised and where it was slaughtered. Additionally, the rule also would not allow muscle cuts of different origins to be commingled, according to the USDA.

COOL was implemented in 2009 and provides information to consumers about where the food they purchase comes from, including meat, vegetables, fruit, fish and shellfish.

 For previous posts about COOL, click here.

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