Court Shoots Down Big Meat’s Challenge To USDA’s Country-Of-Origin Labeling Rules

Last year, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture enacted new rules requiring meat producers to provide more specific details on the country or countries of origin for their products. Saying the new mandate placed too onerous a burden on them, suppliers sued to block the rule change, but that challenge has been shut down by a federal appeals court.

The American Meat Institute, a place at which I’d love to take a continuing-education course, and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit alleged that requiring meat packagers to break out the “born, raised, and slaughtered” information on labels was not merely burdensome, but also violated the First Amendment protection against compelled speech.

They also claimed that USDA has not shown any reason why such labels would be in the interest of public health or that the previous labeling system — which allowed commingling of meat from different countries and only required that the end product be labeled as a “product of” whichever countries were involved — was in any way deceptive.

But today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the AMI’s challenge, allowing the USDA guidelines to be enforced.

The court held that the labeling does indeed provide helpful information to consumers, allowing them “to apply patriotic or protectionist criteria in the choice of meat” and enabling “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.”