Judge denies COOL injunction

Burger_wPickles_closeup_blogAn attempt to halt the implementation of the U.S. updated country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rules has failed in court.

Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson denied a request for a preliminary injunction from plaintiffs in a lawsuit hoping the block COOL. The plaintiffs include nine meat, cattle and pork industry groups that represent parties in the U.S., Canada and Mexico who believe COOL will cause harm to the industry and does little to protect public health. The injunction would have halted the implementation of the rule until the lawsuit is resolved.

USDA, however, maintains that COOL is within the scope of the WTO ruling and will provide additional information to the public about the origin of meat products.

In her 76-page ruling, Jackson noted it appeared USDA had done all it could to maintain the integrity of the COOL while still meeting the WTO ruling.

“The Appellate Body Report and the record in this case demonstrate, essentially, that the [USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service] was stuck between a rock and a hard place after the WTO ruled,” she wrote. “In the absence of a legislative solution to what the WTO had identified as problematic, the agency had to attempt to bring the COOL regulations into compliance with the international tribunal’s decision without running afoul of the COOL statute. Given these constraints, it is evident to the Court that the agency did the best it could, and responded in a manner that was neither arbitrary nor capricious.”

The ruling was a disappointment for the plaintiffs, the American Meat Institute (AMI) said in a statement. AMI is one of the groups that filed the lawsuit, which says 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”.

“We disagree strongly with the court’s decision and believe that several aspects of the ruling are susceptible to challenge,” said AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle. “We intend to pursue them on appeal.”

However, other industry groups welcomed the news, including the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (UCSA).

“We, of course, are pleased with the court’s decision to deny the preliminary injunction requested by the plaintiffs,” said USCA President Jon Wooster. “If the injunction had been granted it would have ensured that the United States would be in violation of its trade obligations under the WTO and also would have further delayed consumers having the type of information Congress has long intended them to have. The revised USDA regulations announced on May 23 of this year will certainly reduce consumer confusion and will allow cattle producers the ability to differentiate their product from foreign beef.”

In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the final COOL rule, which brought the law into compliance with a World Trade Organization ruling (read more on that here). The updated rule changed how muscle cut commodities are labeled, specifically by now requiring the origin designation on the product label to include information not only on where the meat came from (often listed as “Product of the U.S.”), but also where each step of the process occurred. This includes 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 USDA.

COOL has been a point of contention between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico, which sought WTO intervention last summer. Canada recently announced it once again has asked WTO to review COOL as it believes it will cause unfair treatment of Canadian products. Canada also has hinted a retaliatory tariffs if COOL isn’t changed.

Want more on COOL? Read more from Neogen blog here.

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