WASHINGTON – U.S. and Canadian meat industry groups lost a bid in federal court to temporarily block enforcement of U.S. country-of-origin food labeling rules.
The industry groups argued that the rules, issued by the Department of Agriculture, violate the U.S. Constitution by compelling speech in the form of costly and detailed labels on meat products that will confuse consumers and raise prices. U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington disagreed in a ruling dated Wednesday.
It is well established that, when the compelled speech is commercial and purely factual in nature, the speakers First Amendment rights are not unduly burdened as long as the disclosure requirements are reasonably related to the governments interest in preventing deception to consumers, Jackson said.
The judge also said that arguments on the merits of the case favor the government.
We disagree strongly with the courts decision and believe that several aspects of the ruling are susceptible to challenge, said J. Patrick Boyle, the American Meat Institutes chief executive officer. We intend to pursue them on appeal.
The regulations, adopted in May, require producers to specify where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Retail packages cant mix muscle cuts from different countries under a general label.
The rules are more stringent than a set of regulations that came into effect in 2009 in response to the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, in a Canadian animal in 2003. Canada and Mexico told the World Trade Organization that the earlier rules discriminated against their products.
The Canadian livestock industry lost about $617 million annually under the old rules and would lose even more under the revised ones, Travis Toews, a past president of the Canadian Cattlemens Association.