A recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia allows the government to move forward with Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).
The controversial COOL has been hotly debated for years between those in agriculture interested in providing consumers with more information about their food and gaining a marketing edge and many in the meat industry concerned about the cost, logistics of the labeling and potential sanctions from the World Trade Organization.
Legal action was brought against COOL last year by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Meat Institute, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, North American Meat Association, American Association of Meat Processors, National Pork Producers Council, Southwest Meat Association and Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.
In a statement, the American Meat Institute said it was disappointed by the ruling and disagreed with it. James H. Hodges, interim president of AMI, said the group is “evaluating our options moving forward.” The meat industry also argued that COOL violates First Amendment rights to freedom of speech by forcing meat producers to provide information about their products and offers no real value to the consumer.
Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan praised the ruling.
“The good guys and consumers win out over the big boys,” Logan said. “These trade organizations do not accurately represent the interests of independent, family farmers or consumers. They represent huge meatpacking interests like JBS of Brazil and Shuanghui of China.”
JBS is now the largest meatpacker in the U.S. Shuanghui International Holdings recently bought U.S. pork processor Smithfield and has become the largest presence in the U.S. pork market.
“COOL allows consumers to know where their meat and some other foodstuffs originate,” Logan said. “It has the added marketing benefit for independent local and regional farmers to tout the fact that their meat was born, raised and processed in the U.S. — or even more locally.”
Logan points to polling done in 2013 by the Consumer Federation of America which found that 87% of adults favored, either strongly or somewhat, requiring food sellers to indicate on the package label the country or countries in which animals were born, raised and processed. Similarly, 90% of adults favored, either strongly or somewhat, requiring food sellers to indicate on the package label the country or countries in which animals were born and raised and the fact that the meat was processed in the U.S.
COOL has been around since the 2002 Farm Bill and was recently revised after wrangling at the World Trade Organization. The recent ruling was the second time in recent months that the request for an injunction to halt COOL regulations was rejected by a federal court.
The National Farmers Union, together with the United States Cattlemen’s Association, the American Sheep Industry Association and the Consumer Federation of America, intervened to defend the COOL regulations from challenge, and they actively participated in a briefing at the District Court and the Court of Appeals, as well as the preliminary injunction hearing at the District Court.