Food & Agriculture

Federal Court Finds That Country-of-Origin Labeling Harms Cattle Producers But Dismisses Lawsuit

Statute of Limitations Bars Challenge to USDA Rules that Allow Meat Processors to Label Foreign Beef and Pork “Product of USA”

Washington, D.C.—Yesterday, the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington granted summary judgment to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a lawsuit filed by cattle producers in the state. The lawsuit alleged that the USDA was unlawfully allowing imported beef to be both sold to consumers without a country of origin label and sold to consumers with a “Product of USA” label even if the animal from which the beef was derived was born, raised and slaughtered in a foreign country.

USDA had argued that the cattlemen lacked standing to challenge the country of origin labeling (COOL) rules because they could not show that the policy actually hurt them. The court rejected that argument, however, finding that the absence of COOL caused financial harm to domestic cattle producers that was “fairly traceable” to USDA policy. Even so, the court went on to rule that the plaintiffs’ challenge was time-barred, because the requirements they sought to overturn “became part of the regulatory scheme” in 1989, not in 2016, when USDA repealed COOL.

“This decision should serve as wake up call to the Trump Administration,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA). “Not only is COOL wildly popular with consumers, it helps American farmers and ranchers compete on a level playing field. It is incomprehensible that a renegotiation of NAFTA would not address this issue.”

“Until 2015, USDA required COOL for fresh beef and pork products, specifically labels indicating where the cow or pig was born, raised, and slaughtered. Survey after survey has shown that large majorities of American consumers support these requirements. For example, in a 2017 poll commissioned by CFA, eighty-nine percent (89%) of a representative sample of 1000 adult Americans favored, either strongly or somewhat, requiring food sellers to indicate on the package label the country of origin of fresh meat they sell.”

“USDA had to eliminate these popular requirements, however, because Canada and Mexico sued the United States in the World Trade Organization. In 2015, an unaccountable, unelected international tribunal ruled that COOL was an unlawful ‘trade barrier,’ and in response, Congress snatched away consumers’ right to know. A new NAFTA could undo the effect of the WTO’s decision, and let USDA get back to serving American farmers and ranchers, and consumers, rather than big meat processing corporations.”

Contact: Thomas Gremillion, 202-939-1010