WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2013 – Government lawyers late Friday asked a U.S. District Court here to refuse to issue an order blocking USDA’s implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling. The judge set Aug. 27 to hear oral arguments on the motion by the American Meat Institute and U.S., Mexican and Canadian livestock producers to enjoin the COOL rule.

U.S. Department of Justice attorneys, representing Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Anne Alonzo, argued AMI and its allies have failed to show that they are entitled to an emergency order.

The brief, signed by Tamra Tyree Moore of DOJ’s civil division, contends that USDA’s rule “was promulgated to provide consumers with accurate information about the origin of certain meat products that they purchase and to comply with a ruling by the World Trade Organization that the United States had acted inconsistently with its international trade obligations.”

In filing for an injunction (see Agri-Pulse, July 31) the industry group 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 violated 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.”

The government reply asserts that the rule “is consistent not only with the text of the statute but also Congress’s intent ‘to provide consumers with additional information regarding the origin of’ fresh meat." AMI’s “claim that the rule violates their First Amendment rights is baseless,” it adds.

Industry groups “have not shown that they will be irreparably harmed in the absence of preliminary injunctive relief,” the government replied, “and their two month delay in filing this motion undercuts their claim of irreparable injury.” The brief describes industry’s “conclusory and speculative allegations of lost profits” as insufficient to prove irreparable harm. It adds that the claims “are undercut by the secretary’s own economic analysis of the impact of the rule.”

U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson also is weighing a motion by the United States Cattlemen’s Association, National Farmers Union, American Sheep Industry Association and Consumer Federation of America to intervene “in order to protect the interests of their members in the 2013 COOL regulations and to defend the legitimacy of the regulations.” Their brief, also filed Friday, contends that the industry arguments are “without legal or factual merit.”

USCA, NFU and ASI say their farmer-rancher members “have a material interest in how the animals they tend to will be identified when converted to meat products that reach consumers . . . as consumers increasingly demand information on where the food they consume is produced.”

The revised COOL regulation is challenged by AMI, the American Association of Meat Processors, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association, Southwest Meat Association and Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.


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