Ranchers say they will ask the Trump administration and Congress to reinstate country-of-origin labeling on beef after a federal judge dismissed their lawsuit against the USDA but found evidence that the lack of labeling had damaged the industry.
U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson of Spokane on June 5 dismissed the lawsuit filed by R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America and Cattle Producers of Washington.
Peterson ruled in favor of the USDA because ranchers failed to pursue the lawsuit within the six-year timeframe to challenge the 1989 federal Foreign Products Rule and because the regulations follow Congress’ clear intent, according to her ruling.
But the judge agreed with ranchers that the government’s decision has caused them financial harm.
“The court finds that plaintiffs have demonstrated that their alleged injury is fairly traceable to defendants’ action,” Peterson wrote.
“We’re obviously disappointed that we lost the lawsuit, but we’re actually elated that the court specifically found the lack of country-of-origin labeling on beef has harmed U.S. beef producers,” said Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF.
The judge found that harm to U.S. cattle producers is “directly traceable” to USDA not enforcing country-of-origin labeling, Bullard said.
“That is a huge piece of evidence that we now need to take to the administration and to Congress in an attempt to reinstate (COOL) through either executive order or congressional enactment,” he said. “The case has served its purpose to create awareness for the problems associated with the lack of labeling on imported beef.”
Bullard alleges the government allows multinational meat packers to remove and replace foreign labels as products of the U.S., even if the product only undergoes minor processing in a U.S. processing plant.
“Such as having the meat unwrapped, remove the foreign label, rewrap the meat and apply the ‘Product of USA’ label,” he said.
Scott Nielsen, president of Cattle Producers of Washington, believes the issue fits with President Donald Trump’s trade policy.
“He’s for big business, but they don’t seem able to have undue influence with his administration,” he said.
Nielsen said Peterson’s comments raise awareness of the issue.
“The place where this thing will be won or lost is with consumers,” he said. “We’re on the same side as consumers ... wanting to know where their food comes from. That movement is going to continue to get traction.”
CPOW is working with lawmakers and consumer groups to raise awareness, Nielsen said.