Court slaps down meat industry efforts to avoid country of origin labeling on meat products
In conjunction with new provisions outlined in the latest installment of the quinquennial farm bill, the USDA recently established updated country of origin labeling requirements for meat products that are set to take effect in November. These new requirements will expand existing country of origin labeling provisions, requiring meat companies to indicate where their meat originally came from as well as where it was ultimately processed and packaged before being sold to consumers.
Currently, meat imported from other countries, including commingled meat from multiple different countries within the same package, only has to indicate "Product of ..." on the package. Such vague wording does little to truly inform consumers about the full life-cycle of the meat they are purchasing and eating, as meat processors routinely import and mix cattle from all over the world to boost market share and cut costs, all without informing consumers.
But with an increasing number of people demanding to know the true sources of the foods they buy, this longstanding labeling inadequacy is no longer acceptable. And in a rare move of solidarity in the interests of the people rather than faceless corporations, the USDA decided to follow through with the new farm bill provisions by improving these meat labeling requirements, which will better hold the meat industry accountable and improve transparency.
Meat industry attempts to pull First Amendment violation card to avoid transparencyNot surprisingly, this move by the USDA has upset the meat industry, which claims that it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to retrofit its operations to keep animals segregated and alter production processes. The industry even went so far as to claim that the new requirements will violate its First Amendment rights, a laughable claim that, thankfully, the American justice system was not about to accept.
"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," Jackson wrote in her ruling. "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."
Jackson went even further to denounce the First Amendment violation claim, correctly pointing out that meat labeling requirements are "commercial" speech, not individual speech, and that government agencies tasked with such regulatory jurisdiction have the full right to impose changes designed to eliminate consumer confusion.
"In the First Amendment context, it is the burden on speech, not pocketbook, that matters," added Jackson.
According to Courthouse News Service, plaintiffs in the case -- those that oppose the USDA's new meat labeling requirements -- included the American Meat Institute, the American Association of Meat Processors, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the Canadian Pork Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Association, the National Pork Producers Council and the Southwest Meat Association.
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