A district court judge denied a motion that would have halted the implementation of a meat labeling rule issued by the U.S. government in order to comply with an adverse World Trade Organization decision on Wednesday.
The motion for a preliminary injunction was filed in July by groups representing the U.S. meat packing industry and Canadian and Mexican livestock groups. They argued -- among other things -- that the new country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule violated their First Amendment rights by compelling them to print meat labels with more detail about where livestock were born, raised and slaughtered.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the D.C. District Court found that argument, and all others pursued by the plaintiffs, to be unconvincing and unlikely to succeed on their merits. This does not mark the end of the legal fight, but it makes clear that the plaintiffs have a tough battle ahead.
In an 80-page memorandum, Jackson wrote that the plaintiffs' First Amendment arguments against the new COOL rule promulgated in May were wrong for two reasons. First, she found that the measure compels disclosure of "purely factual and uncontroversial information," and therefore, is allowable if it is reasonably related to a government interest in preventing the deception of consumers.
Second, she found that the rule is in fact reasonably related to a government interest in preventing the deception of consumers. The plaintiffs had argued that the government had no such interest, and that the final rule did not target deceptive speech. But the judge disagreed here as well, acknowledging the government's argument that the rule is intended to give consumers "more specific information on which to base their purchasing decisions."
The plaintiffs had also charged that the new COOL rule violated the Administrative Procedures Act because it was "arbitrary and capricious," and based this claim in part on the argument the rule would not achieve the government's stated aim: to comply with the World Trade Organization's (WTO) dispute.
Jackson dismissed that claim. While she made clear that it is not the court's role to determine whether the United States has complied with the WTO decision, she wrote that the government -- represented by the Justice Department -- appears to have "the better argument" in claiming that the measure will bring the United States into compliance.
Jackson was also unconvinced that the government had violated the Agricultural Marketing Act by barring the practice of 'commingling' livestock. Processors had previously been able to commingle livestock from Canada, Mexico and the United States in one processing day and then apply a mixed-origin label, even if the meat product was wholly from U.S. livestock. Jackson determined that since the original COOL statute gave the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) discretion to allow this practice, it was also within USDA's discretion to eliminate it.
On Thursday, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed a notice of appeal regarding the ruling.
Reprinted in part from World Trade Online