(Adds reaction, more from ruling)
By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON, July 29 A U.S. appeals court on
Tuesday rejected a food industry challenge to a federal rule
concerning labeling requirements for meat, marking a potential
setback for other businesses fighting federal regulations on
For the second time, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia Circuit said the 2013 regulation could be
enforced. It requires labels on muscle cuts of meat to list the
country of origin and other details.
The impact of the ruling may not be limited to meat
labeling. The rationale embraced by the court could apply in
other cases in which business interests object to regulations on
free speech grounds.
"It will certainly give the government a wider range of
arguments they can use to defend various compelled disclosure
requirements," said Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case
Western Reserve University School of Law.
For instance, one case that could be affected is a challenge
to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule that forces
public companies to disclose if their products contain "conflict
minerals" from a war-torn part of Africa. In April, the appeals
court threw out part of that rule, but the SEC has asked for a
rehearing, citing the meat labeling case.
The American Meat Institute and related trade associations
had sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the labeling rule
from taking effect, saying it violated companies' free speech
"We have maintained all along that the country of origin
rule harms livestock producers and the industry and affords
little benefit to consumers," the meat group's interim president
James H. Hodges said in a statement." A spokesman said the group
has not yet decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
A three-judge panel of the court originally upheld the rule
in a March opinion, but the full court of 11 judges decided to
rehear the case. The full court agreed with the panel on
Tuesday, but the court was split, with three judges dissenting.
The appeals court judges reheard the meat labeling case to
interpret a 1985 Supreme Court precedent on what is known as
"compelled commercial speech." The question before the judges
was whether the government can only require disclosures when its
aim is to prevent deception or whether it has broader authority
that would cover other types of speech.
The appeals court embraced the latter interpretation, which
would potentially give the government more freedom to compel
speech in different contexts.
The labeling regulation requires retailers to list not just
the country of origin of the meat, but also information on when
and where animals were born, raised and slaughtered. It
strengthened a previous 2009 regulation.
The case decided on Tuesday is American Meat Institute v.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia, No. 13-5281.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Lisa
Von Ahn and Tom Brown)