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U.S. District Court upholds current meat labeling rules

BILLINGS, Mont. — Cattle and pork producers were hit with a setback in their challenge to the relaxed country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rules when the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Washington granted summary judgment to the USDA.

The suit, filed by the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) USA and the Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW), alleged the USDA was unlawfully allowing imported beef to be both sold to consumers without a country-of-origin label and with a “Product of USA” label, even if the animal from which the beef was derived was born, raised and slaughtered in a foreign country.

In siding with the USDA, U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson stated while cattle producers may have incurred financial difficulty, she could not relax COOL rules, as they directly reflect Congressional mandates.

In addition to the COOL rules change, R-CALF and CPoW had also contended the change effectively reactivated a 1989 ruling mandating that certain foreign products be treated as domestic products after proper entry into the United States; however, Peterson ruled against the plaintiffs there, as well.

“Defendants’ implementation of both the 1989 Foreign Products Rule and the 2016 COOL Requirement Removal Rule directly reflects statutory language enacted by Congress,” she said in her ruling. “Furthermore, the court finds that plaintiffs have not succeeded in showing that defendants’ actions were arbitrary and capricious, or unsupported by substantial evidence,” which would warrant review under the Administrative Procedures Act.

The court also determined the cattle producers were time-barred because the regulations that allowed the removal of COOL labels on imported beef was promulgated in 1989 and the statute of limitations expired in 1995. Neither R-CALF nor CPoW were formed in time to challenge the 1989 ruling.

COOL was signed into law under Title X of the 2002 farm bill and required retailers to provide country-of-origin labeling for fresh beef, pork and lamb. It was expanded in 2008 to include more food items such as fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables; however, on Dec. 18, 2015, Congress repealed the law as part of its omnibus budget bill.

“While obviously disappointing, the outcome of this case highlights the urgent need for the new administration and new Congress to reverse the harm to U.S. cattle producers brought about by the actions of the previous administration and Congress,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

“President Trump now has the opportunity to immediately reinstate COOL in his ongoing renegotiation of NAFTA, as well as by initiating a rulemaking within USDA to require imported beef to bear its foreign marketing through retail sale, just as the COOL rule effectively did from 2009 through 2015.”