WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2015 – A lawsuit waged by opponents of mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) was dropped today after it was defeated in the courts three times. The U.S. Supreme Court was the only court left to hear the case.
A spokesman for one of the groups confirmed the development to Agri-Pulse Monday afternoon. The most recent a decision in the case – American Meat Institute, et al. v. United States Department of Agriculture, et al. – came in July when the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia affirmed a lower court ruling that COOL was not in violation of free speech as the groups contended.
The plaintiffs had asserted that compelling labels to disclose where meat-producing animals were born, raised, and slaughtered unconstitutionally violated their rights to free speech.
Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, a group formed by the merger of American Meat Institute and the North American Meat Association, said his organization will now take a different approach in its fight against COOL.
”While we remain disappointed with the court’s ruling on country of origin labeling, we agree with the World Trade Organization’s assessment that the U.S. rule is out of compliance with its trade obligations to Canada and Mexico,” Carpenter said in a statement. “As (Agriculture Secretary Tom) Vilsack has said, a statutory fix is needed to bring the U.S. into compliance to avoid retaliatory tariffs and we’re committed to working with Congress to fix COOL once and for all.”
After a complaint was filed by Canada and Mexico, a WTO panel found that the rule is a form of protectionism, making the U.S. liable for potential punitive tariffs. The U.S. has appealed that decision.
In a release, a group of COOL proponents applauded the decision to drop the lawsuit.
“It is about time the meatpackers abandoned this anti-consumer lawsuit,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the environmental group Food & Water Watch. “Three separate court rulings rejected the industry’s absurd contention that it has a constitutional right to deceive consumers about where food is produced.”
The groups also called on Congress to forgo attempting a legislative fix to the rule, which has been called for by many throughout the industry.
“Congress must abandon its efforts to meddle with meat labels, which are overwhelmingly popular with ranchers and consumers,” Mabel Dobbs, a member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, said. “Even the meatpackers have given up now on their effort to stop COOL in the courts. It’s time for Congress to leave these commonsense labels alone.”
Speaking to members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association at the Cattle Industry Convention last week, Colin Woodall, NCBA vice president of government affairs said he is confident a new legislative environment will help in the fight against the mandatory labeling legislation.
“The fact that the Republicans control both the House and the Senate and they have a very pro-trade agenda means that we are optimistic that in the window of time between the decision on the appeal and the implementation of retaliation that we can get legislation to get rid of COOL,” Woodall, NCBA’s chief lobbyist, said.
“There was a time when we talked about ways to fix COOL. ‘How can we modify COOL? How can we make it to the point where it’s workable for us and it’s workable for our trade partners?’ That’s no longer a discussion. The discussion is repeal.”
The WTO is set to hear the U.S. appeal on COOL in mid-March. If the U.S. were to lose that appeal, implementation of retaliatory measures from Canada and Mexico could be set in motion.
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