The meatpacking industry has failed to block a federal law requiring food labels that tell consumers whether their meat came from the United States.
In a ruling issued Friday, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Appeals Court of the District of Columbia denied an attempt by meatpackers to block Country of Origin Labeling. COOL, as the law is known, requires food labels on meat packages revealing where the meat was born, raised and slaughtered. Meatpackers, led by the American Meat Institute, argue the rule discriminates against foreign beef from Canada and Mexico. They wanted the labels blocked while a lawsuit against COOL plays out.
The ruling was a significant victory for COOL proponents, including two based in Billings that are parties in the lawsuit.
“This clearly demonstrates that their arguments were red herrings,” said Bill Bullard, CEO of Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, also known as R-CALF. “They were complaining that the sky was going to fall and it did not, and it continues not to fall.”
Billings-based groups R-CALF USA and the Western Organization of Resource Councils petitioned the court to defend COOL. They were joined by Food & Water Watch and the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association in arguing that COOL was a necessary tool for promoting U.S. meat.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., was also a key proponent of COOL as it worked its way through the Senate.
“This is a big win for Montana ranchers and American consumers,” Tester told The Gazette. “I have strongly supported COOL throughout my time in the Senate because consumers deserve to know where their meat is born, raised, and processed — and when they do, they choose American meat.”
COOL has been controversial since its inclusion in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills. The American Meat Institute argues that beef from Canada is no different than the beef from the United States and that labels suggesting otherwise violate trade law. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada and Mexico were to have fair access to U.S. markets.
The COOL labels arrived in supermarkets after the 2008 farm bill, but proponents balked at language that indicated the meat was a product of Mexico, Canada or the United States. Proponents wanted more specific labeling and appeared to get it last May when the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved more detailed labeling.
Those labels began showing up in supermarket refrigerator cases last November.