Meat Industry Fights New USDA Regulations

     WASHINGTON (CN) – New federal rules that ban commingling of meat from animals from different countries will destroy the market for imported meat, eight industry groups claim in court.
     The American Meat Institute et al. sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Marketing Service in Federal Court.
     They claim the agency’s new meat processing and labeling rules constitute compelled speech, a violation of the industry’s First Amendment rights.
     The USDA adopted new regulations for country of origin labeling – or COOL – in May. The regulations ended retailers’ and processors’ longstanding practice of commingling meat from animals with different origins, to be packaged and sold together.
     The industry claims that for decades it has relied upon two-way trade in livestock and meat products in which animals may be born in one country, raised in another and slaughtered in yet another, then packaged and sold together.
     “Imported livestock are a critical supply for American processing plants, particularly those near the Canadian and Mexican borders,” the complaint states. “These processing plants produce meat products for domestic consumption and for export to a number of countries including Canada and Mexico.”
     The USDA started to move away from commingling in 2009 when it adopted regulations that forced processors and retailers to label meat taken from commingled animals as the product of multiple countries of origin.
     The USDA went a step further in May, adopting the COOL regulations, forcing the industry to put labels on meat products that list separately, in sequence, the country where the animal was born, raised, and was slaughtered, a task that will require producers to segregate livestock.
     “And for the first time in the history of the American meat industry, it will be unlawful to combine meats with different ‘Born, Raised, and Slaughtered’ combinations in the same package at retail: defendants’ new COOL regulations ban commingling,” the industry says in the complaint.
     It claims the new regulations require meat producers to send “extensive detail and paperwork about individual animals” throughout the process of producing meat.
     “The costs associated with this new inefficient process will drive some processors dependent on imports out of business and destroy the market for meat from imported livestock,” according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs claim there are no health, safety or consumer-protection reasons for this.
     “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’ new COOL regulations violate the First Amendment, which prohibits compelled-speech regimes in the absence of a substantial government interest,” the complaint states.
     Joining as plaintiffs are 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 and the Southwest Meat Association.
     The industry seeks declaratory judgment that the COOL regulations are invalid under the First Amendment, and an injunction preventing enforcement.
     The groups are represented by Jonathan Abram, with Hogan Lovells.

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