Meat Industry Sues USDA, Saying Country-of-Origin Label Leads to Higher Costs

There is "strong" consumer support for country-of-origin labels, said Ami Gadhia, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union.

"When you buy meat to feed your family, you ought to be able to know where it comes from," Gadhia told the Associated Press. "If there's a food safety problem with a certain product, the labels can help consumers avoid that product."

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said in a fact sheet about the rule, "Food products, both imported and domestic, must meet the food safety standards of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food safety and traceability are not the stated intent of the rule, and the COOL program does not replace any other established regulatory programs that related to food safety or traceability."

In the complaint, the groups defend their food safety precautions by stating that all livestock and meat processed at federally inspected establishments in the U.S. and sold in interstate commerce are subject to the same health and safety requirements, as prescribed by the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act.

"Those products are also graded for quality according to a system administered by the AMS [Agricultural Marketing Service] without variation based on where an animal was born or raise," the complaint states. "In short, beef is beef, whether the steer or heifer was born in Montana, Manitoba, or Mazatlán. The same goes for hogs, chickens, and other livestock."

As a result of the rule, steer born in Juarez, Mexico, and raised and slaughtered in Amarillo, Texas ,cannot share the same tray as steer born in Amarillo, Texas, and raised and slaughtered in Amarillo, the groups say.

The meat groups say the rule violates the U.S. Constitution by compelling speech through "costly and detailed labels on meat products that do not directly advance a government interest."

They also say the regulation exceeds the scope of the statutory mandate, because the statute does not permit the kind of detailed and onerous labeling requirements the final rule puts in place.

"Sorting and tracking livestock and labeling meat by the various 'routes' that livestock may take on the way to market is needlessly complex with no measurable benefits," said AMI senior vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel Mark Dopp in a statement. "Shoes, for example, may say 'Made in the USA.' They do not say 'Leather from cattle born in Canada, harvested in the USA, tanned in South Korea and processed in the USA, yet that is the sort of labeling that we are now being forced to apply."

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