The meat industry has enaged in the longstanding practice of commingling meat parts from different animals and even from different countries, before packaging the meat for sale. This practice has been regularly performed without any label notice to consumers.
To its credit, the USDA passed a regulation known as COOL, that requires meat producers to list the meat's country of origin on the label. The regulation also requires that the label list where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered, if these locations are from different countries, as is often the case.
In that the meat industry was apparently adverse to complying with COOL and the consumer's right to know, they brought suit against the USDA. Eight groups led by the American Meat Institute, filed suit claiming that the regulation violated the meat industry's First Amendment free speech rights. The meat industry argued, that "Because there is no legitimate justification for the new 'Born, Raised, and Slaughtered' regime, and because these new rules will impose significant burdens on and radically restructure the way meat is produced and packaged in this country, defendants' COOL regulations violate the First Amendment, which prohibits compelled-speech regimes in the absence of a substantial government interest."
US District Court Judge Ketanji Jackson rejected the meat industry's argument stating, "It would be one thing if plaintiffs were making a substantiated allegation that the demands of complying with the final rule's segregation and labeling requirements are in-and-of-themselves impossible to meet without destroying their companies... but here, to the contrary, plaintiffs' declarants appear most concerned that they will ultimately lose future business because others may respond to the new labeling rules and react in a manner that may ultimately affect their companies negatively." In her 76 page decision Judge Jackson ultimately concluded that, "The plaintiffs' failure to demonstrate either a likelihood of success on the merits or irreparable injury warrants dismissal."
This decision signals a small victory for consumers and supports the rising belief in our country that full disclosure food label laws are needed. Unfortunately, it does nothing to protect consumers from what is done to the animal and meat from the time of birth to packaging, but at least it is a step in the right direction.
Long Island Lawyer
Paul A. Lauto, Esq.