A lawyer for the plaintiffs suing the federal government over mandatory country-of-origin labeling of meat says the groups strongly disagree with a judge’s reasoning in denying an injunction to block the rule from taking effect in November.
The American Meat Institute and its allies swiftly appealed the ruling by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who asserted in her opinion that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate either a likelihood of success on the merits or irreparable injury.
“I think obviously we disagree with her First Amendment” arguments, said Mark Dopp, the AMI’s general counsel and senior vice president for regulatory affairs. “We also thought we made a fairly compelling argument with respect to the irreparable harm that’s going to befall some of the companies in livestock production if the rule is allowed to proceed.”
But Dopp was cautious not to criticize Jackson, a former U.S. Supreme Court law clerk and private attorney who’s been on the bench for less than a year. Nominated by President Barack Obama in late 2012, the 43-year-old Jackson was confirmed by the Senate in March.
Although Jackson signaled in her opinion that she doesn’t think the plaintiffs have much of a case, Dopp said the groups aren’t seeking a new judge for the trial itself.
“This is simply an appeal of her denial of a preliminary injunction,” he said.
In her written narrative, Jackson rejected the AMI’s assertion that the labeling rule violated the First Amendment by compelling speech, arguing that case law has found that compelling commercial speech is permissible when it discloses facts about a product and prevents consumers from being misled or confused.
For instance, under the existing labeling rules, if only 1 of 10 cows was born in Mexico but all were raised in the United States, the whole group could be labeled as a product of the U.S. and Mexico, she wrote.
On the subject of economic harm to producers and processors as the result of COOL, Jackson agreed with the USDA’s assertion that the plaintiffs offered “bare allegations and fears about what may happen in the future” but failed to substantiate the harms.
The AMI, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council and other American and Canadian meat industry groups filed suit July 8, naming as defendants the USDA and the Agricultural Marketing Service. Since then, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, National Farmers Union and other groups that support the rule have been allowed to intervene on the government’s behalf.
The groups will “actively participate in the appeal process” to defend the trial court’s decision, USCA president Jon Wooster said in a statement.
Dopp said he expects the appeal to be heard by the U.S. District Court of Appeals’ District of Columbia Circuit within the next several weeks.
U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s preliminary injunction decision: