* Judge denies injunction to stop new labeling rule
* U.S. meat packers argued rule costly and burdensome
* Canada and Mexico challenged U.S. rule before WTO
* Dispute started in 2009 when labels became mandatory
By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON, Sept 11 A U.S. district judge
refused on Wednesday to stop the government from requiring
labels on packages of beef, pork, poultry and lamb sold in U.S.
stores to include more specific information about the meat's
country of origin.
U.S. meat packers said the latest country-of-origin labeling
(COOL) rule will drive up their costs and become a bookkeeping
nightmare. But in a victory for the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson denied their
request for a preliminary injunction.
Canada and Mexico are challenging COOL before the World
Trade Organization as a U.S. trade barrier. They prevailed in an
earlier WTO case against COOL, which led to the revised
regulation issued in May and now under dispute.
"We are going to be faithful to the rule," U.S. Agriculture
Secretary Tom Vilsack told a farm delegation early this week.
"It's a battle we are going to continue to fight."
The current WTO challenge will not be resolved until 2015,
Vilsack said, because of procedural time frames and likely
appeals of preliminary rulings.
The meat packers' lawsuit against COOL remains alive
although Jackson rejected the request for a preliminary
injunction. The judge said the industry failed to show it would
suffer irreparable harm if COOL was in effect while the case
Congress approved COOL in 2002 but it did not become
mandatory until March 2009. Consumer groups hailed the labels as
part of consumers' right to know the source of their food, while
food makers said COOL could disrupt marketing patterns.
Canada and Mexico said the initial U.S. rule discriminated
against imported livestock and helped drive down cattle and hog
shipments from those countries by as much as 50 percent in four
years. WTO ordered the United States to revise its regulations
by May of this year.
The latest rule requires more specific labels. Each package
must identify where the animals that yielded the meat were born,
raised and slaughtered. All the meat in a package must come from
the same source, ending the practice of commingling for
everything except ground meat.
When it issued the latest rule, USDA said it would allow six
months for compliance. It estimated the 7,200 processors and
retailers would spend from $53 million to $192 million in "total
adjustment costs" to adapt to the new, more detailed labels.
As an example of how the rule works, USDA said roasts from
cattle raised in Mexico for slaughter in the United States would
say, "Born and raised in Mexico, slaughtered in the United
States." Imported meat would be tagged as a "Product of" the
originating country. Chicken breasts from U.S. birds would be
labeled, "Born, raised and slaughtered in the United States."
The U.S. Cattlemen's Association, which supports COOL, said
if the preliminary injunction had been approved, the United
States would have been placed in violation of the WTO ruling. It
said COOL will allow U.S. producers "to differentiate their
The American Meat Institute, the trade group for meat
packing companies and the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, was not
immediately available for comment.