Court to weigh injunction in Country of Origin Labeling case

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2014 - The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will hear oral arguments Thursday in a lawsuit challenging a USDA rule requiring Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule for meat products.

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Meat and livestock organizations-including the American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen's Beef Association and North American Meat Association-in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico filed the lawsuit in July 2013 seeking to strike down revisions to the COOL regulations issued by USDA earlier in the year. The groups also asked for a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the regulations until the lawsuit could be adjudicated, arguing that they would suffer irreparable monetary harm if the rule were to go into effect.

The motion was denied and the plaintiffs appealed. A three judge panel of the appeals court now is being asked to decide if that ruling should be upheld. Comprising the panel are Chief Judge Merrick Garland, Circuit Judge Srikanth Srinivasan and Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams.

The National Farmers Union, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association and the Consumer Federation of America are among those participating in the case as defendants of COOL.

Opponents also argue that the COOL rules will damage U.S. trade relations with Canada and Mexico, which are contesting the labeling law, saying it provides an unfair advantage to U.S. products. Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in December repeated a threat to seek retaliatory tariffs if the COOL rules aren't changed. A Worth Trade Organization (WTO) panel has already found that COOL amounts to disguised protectionism in violation of trade agreements. Ritz said the law is costing Canadian producers $1 billion a year.

The WTO is expected to rule on the revised COOL rule this spring.

“The new labels address concerns at the World Trade Organization by ensuring that consumers have access to clear and accurate information that lets them know the sources of their food,'' the coalition of groups supporting COOL, including the NFU, said in a statement late last year.

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/images/cleardot.gifThe rules, which became effective in November, require that meat products be labeled with where the animal providing the meat was born, raised and slaughtered.

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