A federal district court Wednesday denied a request from meat industry groups to temporarily suspend USDA's Country of Origin Labeling rule. If granted, the injunction would have suspended the COOL rule until a lawsuit challenging the rule was finalized.
The groups filed the request for injunction in July, claiming the rule could create potential irreparable harm to the meat industry. The action stems from earlier claims that the COOL rule, which was revised after complaints from World Trade Organization trading partners Canada and Mexico, is unconstitutional because it compels speech in a way that does not advance a government interest and can create unfair bias against imported products.
The rule requires meat product labels to display information about where the originating animal was born, raised and slaughtered. COOL proponents say the rule allows consumers expanded access to information about food production.
Groups intervening in the case to argue for the COOL rule praised the injunction's denial Wednesday. Jon Wooster, president of the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, said if the injunction would have been granted, it "would have ensured that the United States would be in violation of its trade obligations under the WTO and also would have further delayed consumers having the type of information Congress has long intended them to have."
Wooster believes the rule will reduce consumer confusion and will allow cattle producers the ability to differentiate their product from foreign beef.
The National Farmers Union, also an intervenor in the suit, said the decision reinforces the group's positive position on the COOL rule.
"We are pleased that the packer-producer organizations and foreign interests’ attempts to thwart COOL have been denied. We are committed to defending COOL and will continue to do so throughout this legal process," Johnson said.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall, however, says the denail of an injunction is a "huge dissappointment."
"The fact remains that this is still a government-run program that is not providing any benefit to the consumer or to producers. It is harming our relationship with two of our biggest international markets and that is Canada and Mexico," Woodall explained in an NCBA interview.
Woodall argued that costs of implementing the program have been estimated at between $53 and $137 million, mostly accounting for processing equipment changes, new labels and other investment in recordkeeping. He estimates that most of the increased cost will be passed on to producers.
USDA has stipulated a Nov. 23 deadline for full implementation of the revised rule, which is six months following the announcement of the revisions.
The case, which is argued on both sides by meat industry groups – is separate from federal negotiations involving the World Trade Organization.
More on the COOL rule:
Canada Issues Formal COOL Challenge
COOL Advocates Ask to Intervene in Labeling Lawsuit
COOL Rule Opponents Seek Court Injunction
Meat Interests Take USDA To Court Over COOL Rule