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Meat industry groups seek rehearing of COOL court case

Canadian, U.S. and Mexican livestock and meat industry groups want a rehearing from a U.S. court that so far has shot down their challenges of U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) laws.

The American Meat Institute (AMI), the lead group in a list of plaintiffs including the Canadian Pork Council and Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), filed a petition Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit over their COOL case, the CCA said in a newsletter Monday.

The groups in July last year sought a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) May 2013 final rule on COOL. The request was denied — and the groups’ appeal in late July this year was also rejected. [Related story]

According to the CCA, the new petition filed Friday seeks a panel rehearing and rehearing en banc (that is, by the entire court of judges) to contest the authority of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to regulate production practices in the COOL rule.

The Washington, D.C.-based AMI and other plaintiffs specifically refer to the final rule’s ban on “commingling” of meat products — an issue that wasn’t addressed by the en banc panel that rejected the group’s appeal in July, the CCA said.

Dropping the previous COOL rule’s allowance for commingling of muscle cuts of different origin prevents U.S. processors from labelling cuts of animals from the U.S., Canada and Mexico, for example, with the less-specific “Product of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.”

Under the final COOL rule, for another example, if an animal is born in Canada, but raised in both Canada and the U.S. before slaughter, the shortest allowable label must read “Born in Canada, Raised and Slaughtered in the U.S.”

“Not persuaded”

The petition argues that the earlier opinions of the District Court and three-judge Appeals Court panel “condone this aspect of the regulation” and “contradict established legal precedent,” the CCA said.

Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams, writing for the appeal court panel in March, had said the court was “not persuaded” by AMI’s claim that USDA’s final rule “alters production practices (commingling) over which the COOL statute gives (U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack) no authority.”

“Because of the economic significance of the COOL statute, which is costing the industry more than half a billion dollars based on an agency overstepping its administrative role, it is of exceptional importance that the court rehear the appeal,” Mark Dopp, AMI’s senior vice-president of regulatory affairs, said in the CCA newsletter Monday.

“The precedent set by the court in this case will have impact on other cases for years to come.”

The Canadian and Mexican governments, meanwhile, still await the public release of a compliance panel report from the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) on COOL.

The compliance panel convened last year on whether the final rule meets the U.S. government’s WTO obligations, following previous rulings by the WTO DSB and Appellate Body against earlier versions of the COOL rule.

The compliance panel said in March it expected to issue its report “towards the end of July 2014,” but hasn’t yet done so.

Citing unnamed sources familiar with the case, the Wall Street Journal last month reported the panel has ruled against the U.S. [Related]

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