WASHINGTON, April 4, 2014 -- The Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit today vacated a March 28 ruling that denied the American Meat Institute’s attempt to block USDA’s final rule on country-of-origin labeling (COOL). The full court will rehear the case on May 19.

Mark Dopp, AMI’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs, said the court order signals that some members of the court may share AMI’s concerns about the earlier ruling.  Dopp said he hopes the move will lead to an injunction against “the protectionistic and costly” COOL rule.

In 2013, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) adopted a rule modifying its 2009 regulations implementing Congress’s requirements for COOL. The rule requires retailers of “muscle cuts” of meat to list the countries of origin of the animals providing the product, as well as the location of different production steps, including where the animals were raised and slaughtered. The original rule only required a list of the animal’s country of origin.

After the 2009 rule’s adoption, Canada and Mexico filed a complaint with the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which found the rule to be in violation of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

USDA’s reformed COOL rule also eliminated the original rule’s allowance for commingling — a practice by which cuts from animals from different countries, but processed on the same day, could all bear identical labels.

AMI challenged the 2013 rule in District Court as a violation of the COOL statute and the First Amendment. AMI moved for a preliminary injunction halting enforcement, and a district court denied the motion. That decision was affirmed by Senior Circuit Stephen J. Williams on March 28. The Court of Appeals today vacated Williams’ ruling.

Among other things, AMI argues that the final USDA rule 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.”


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