By TIM HEARDEN
As meat and livestock groups have asked a federal court to block the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law from taking effect in November, another organization that supports the rule is seeking to intervene in the suit.
The American Meat Institute and eight other U.S., Canadian and Mexican industry groups requested a preliminary injunction July 25 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., claiming the new labeling law will do irreparable harm by increasing costs and disrupting cattle markets if it is allowed to be implemented.
The groups asserted in a lawsuit filed July 8 the revised rule unveiled this spring violates the U.S. Constitution by compelling speech in the form of detailed labels on meat products, that it exceeds the scope of the statutory mandate and that it is arbitrary and capricious because it imposes vast burdens on the industries with little benefit.
"For each of these reasons, we submit that Plaintiffs are very likely to succeed on the merits and the Final Rule will likely be vacated," the groups' motion states. "But if it is not enjoined in the meantime, the Final Rule will irreparably harm meat-industry participants."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association has filed a request to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of the USDA and the Agricultural Marketing Service, which were named as defendants. The organization has heard from many of its members who want "full representation" of cattle producers, executive vice president Jess Peterson said.
"From our perspective, they are literally seeking to remove the right for us to differentiate our product," Peterson said. "The fact that the preliminary injunction was filed today is even more concerning given the fact that they're trying to shut the whole COOL rule down ... It's more reason to get involved."
Joining the AMI as plaintiffs are the American Association of Meat Processors, the American Meat Institute, the Canadian Pork Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Association, the Southwest Meat Association and Mexico's National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.
The USDA finalized its revised rule in May after a World Trade Organization panel partially sided with Mexico and Canada in a dispute over the regulation. Under the new rule, labels on muscle cuts of beef, pork and other meats must include information on where animals were born, raised and slaughtered, and the rule removes the allowance for commingling of cuts from different countries.
In response to the revised language, the Canadian government signaled in June it may impose retaliatory tariffs on more than three dozen commodities, including beef, pork, rice, corn, apples, cherries and wine.
A USDA spokeswoman said recently the agency remains "confident" in the operation of the labeling law and that it complies with the U.S.' international trade obligations.
American Meat Institute, et a., v. USDA, et al., motion for preliminary injunction: http://www.meatami.com/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/92882
U.S. Cattlemen's Association: http://www.uscattlemen.org