Court of Appeals upholds USDA country-of-origin labeling for meats

In 2002 and again in 2008, Congress enacted legislation requiring country-of-origin labeling (COOL) on certain foods, including meats. The 2008 statute defines country of origin as meaning, at least, where the animal has been born, raised, and slaughtered—the three major production steps.

After the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a regulation to implement the COOL requirement, a group of trade associations representing livestock producers, feedlot operators, and meat packers, and led by lead plaintiff the American Meat Institute, sued USDA. Among other things, they alleged that the regulation violated the First Amendment by forcing them to engage in speech.

Earlier this year, a 3-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the regulation. The full D.C. Circuit then decided to rehear the case to consider the proper standard for evaluating a First Amendment challenge to government-compelled disclosures.

Yesterday, the full court again upheld the regulation. The court held that the disclosure “enables a consumer to apply patriotic or protectionist criteria in the choice of meat. And it enables one who believes that United States practices and regulation are better at assuring food safety than those of other countries, or indeed the reverse, to act on that premise.” These interests, the court held, satisfied the applicable First Amendment test.

Meanwhile, Canada has challenged the COOL regulation before the World Trade Organization, and that proceeding is still pending.

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