The country-of-origin labelling (COOL) dispute discussed in my earlier posts from May 9 and May 28 on this site has now moved into a new phase. After the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced new labelling regulations in May 2013 to respond to the WTO Appellate Body’s ruling against existing USA COOL regulations, a group of eight organizations representing U.S. and Canadian meat and livestock industries has gone to court to block the new regulations.
Citing constitutional breaches and lack of statutory authority, the group filed suit in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia on July 8, 2013, seeking to have the new regulations overturned.
On constitutional grounds, the group argues that the new regulations violate constitutionally protected freedom of speech by compelling speech in the form of costly labelling that does not advance a substantial government interest.
And from a statutory perspective, the group is claiming that the new labelling exceeds the USDA’s mandate and violates the Agriculture Marketing Act. The group argues that, while Congress did authorize COOL regulations in the 2008 Farm Bill, that authorization did not permit labels to include where animals were born, raised and slaughtered – all items specifically required by the new USDA rules.
On July 25, 2013, in a follow-up to launching the action, the group filed for an injunction preventing the interim implementation of the USDA rules pending the outcome of the case. The group alleges that it has a high chance of succeeding in its action and that, were the rules to be implemented in the meantime, their representative industries would suffer irreparable damage.
The group consists of the American meat processors, the American Meat Institute, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Canadian Pork Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Association, and the Southwest Meat Association. Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations has recently joined the lawsuit as the ninth member of the plaintiffs group.
Just days ago, the United States Cattlemen’s Association, the National Farmers Union, the American Sheep Industry Association and the Consumer Federation of America jointly filed to obtain intervener status in the proceedings.
And while this is all going on in the U.S. District Court, the governments of Canada and Mexico continue to plan their responses to what they view as a failure to comply with the ruling of the WTO Appellate Body.