Groups can intervene in COOL lawsuit, U.S. district court says

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2013 - The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered an order Aug. 20 granting a motion by several organizations to intervene in a pending country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) lawsuit, which seeks to block implementation of a USDA mandatory meat labeling rule.

The motion was granted to the United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA), National Farmers Union (NFU), the American Sheep Industry Association and Consumer Federation of America.

Jon Wooster, USCA president, welcomed the court's decision to permit the groups to intervene in full.

“Plaintiffs had filed a partial opposition to our motion to intervene, opposing our participation in the preliminary injunction but taking no position on our participating in the part of the litigation that deals with the merits,” Wooster said. “The court's order granting our motion to intervene makes clear that we can participate at the preliminary injunction hearing as well as in the remainder of the litigation.”

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 The lawsuit was filed July 8 by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), American Meat Institute, North American Meat Association, National Pork Producers Council, Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Canadian Pork Council, American Association of Meat Processors, Southwest Meat Association and Mexico's National Confederation of Livestock Organizations. On July 26, the plaintiffs announced that they had filed a motion with the court seeking a preliminary injunction.   

“We are pleased that we have been allowed to intervene in the litigation and that our materials are now before the court,” Wooster said. “USCA and its fellow intervenors are strong advocates to ensure that consumers in fact know where their beef is from.”

Wooster said the revised USDA regulations announced on May 23 “will surely reduce consumer confusion.”  He said, for producers, providing consumers with information on where an animal has been born and raised gives cow-calf operators, backgrounders and feedlots the ability to differentiate that their product was indeed born, raised and slaughtered in the United States. 

Wooster said a preliminary injunction, if granted, would further delay consumers having the type of information Congress has long wanted and that “all of us who believe in COOL have been seeking through the regulatory process.” A ruling on that injunction is expected next week.

USDA's final rule modified the labeling provisions for muscle cut commodities, covered under the COOL program, to require the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps occurred.

In June 2012, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) affirmed an earlier WTO Panel decision finding that the United States' previous COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports.

NCBA President Scott George has said the COOL regulations would result in increased discrimination against U.S. products. 

“Our largest trading partners have already said that these provisions will not bring the United States into compliance,” George said when the final rule published. “Moreover, this rule will place a greater record-keeping burden on producers, feeders and processors through the born, raised and harvested label.”

In filing for an injunction, NCBA and the other groups contended that implementation of the new COOL standard could force U.S. packing plants and cattle feeders near the northern and southern borders to close, would violate companies' First Amendment speech protection, exceed the authority granted USDA in the 2008 farm bill and offer “little benefit to consumers while fundamentally altering the meat and poultry industry.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian government requested on Aug. 19 the establishment of a WTO compliance panel to consider if the United States has failed to bring its COOL measure into conformity with WTO obligations.

“We had hoped to avoid having to again resort to the WTO to resolve this matter,” said Ed Fast, Canada's minister of international trade, and Gerry Ritz, Canada's minister of agriculture and agri-food, in a joint statement. “However, despite consistent rulings by the WTO, the U.S. government continues its unfair trade practices, which are severely damaging to Canadian industry and jobs.”

The officials said Canada will continue to fight against “this unfair treatment, which is also hurting U.S. industry and consumers.”

“We continue to consult with stakeholders as we pursue a fair resolution of this issue,” the officials said. “To respect Canada's WTO obligations, our government will not act on retaliatory measures until the WTO authorizes us to do so.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the issues raised by Canada are “issues between two sovereign countries.”

“While Canada has the right to seek a determination on whether the United States' action is consistent with the U.S. obligations, NFU and our allies have long believed that the revised regulations are, in fact, consistent with WTO obligations,” Johnson said. 

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