(NAFB)--Nine groups were asking a federal court in Washington, D.C. for a preliminary injunction to stop USDA from enforcing its new Country of Origin Labeling law Tuesday. The American Meat Institute was joined by two Canadian livestock producer groups, a Mexican livestock producer group, other domestic organizations - including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council - and the North American Meat Association in filing suit to block implementation of the rule earlier this summer. The groups argue that the new labels required for meat and poultry sold at retail constitute “compelled speech” - which is only allowed under the U.S. constitution when it serves a substantial government interest. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, National Farmers Union, American Sheep Industry Association and the Consumer Federation of America were permitted to intervene in the case to defend the rule. Four additional groups - including R-CALF USA - just asked to intervene on USDA’s side on Monday.
USDA is due to start enforcing the amended COOL rule in November. The rule was issued by USDA in May and was designed to bring the U.S. into compliance with a World Trade Organization finding that the program violated the Technical Barriers to Trade Treaty. The rule would require labels to separately list the countries where animals were born, raised and slaughtered. Canada and Mexico have threatened to impose punitive tariffs to compensate for the harm they say the new rules continue to impose. In fact - last week Canada said it would seek permission to impose up to one-billion dollars per year in tariffs on U.S. products ranging from meat, apples and cherries to jewelry, furniture and mattresses. Canadian Ag Minister Gerry Ritz says the changes made by USDA will further hinder the ability of Canadian cattle and hog producers to compete in the U.S. Further - the Canadian government has requested the establishment of a WTO compliance panel to determine whether the U.S. has complied with the order to bring COOL into compliance with its international trade obligations.
On the other side of the issue - U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Jess Peterson says the modifications will just require a slight modification in how segregation is handled. He says the only barriers are the ones COOL opponents are creating.