Fri March 28, 2014

Meat Labels Don't Infringe On Free Speech, Court Rules

New labels on packages of meat tell shoppers where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.
Credit Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Those new labels on grocery store meat that says where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered will be sticking around.

A federal appeals court on Friday turned down an attempt by the meat industry to halt the use of the labels, which began showing up in stores late last year, pending a trial. Additionally, Judge Stephen F. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the industry’s claims that the labels violated free speech probably won’t succeed in court.

As Harvest Public Media has reported, the labels, called “Country of Origin Labeling,” or COOL, allow meatpackers and retailers to provide consumers with more information, although the industry has fought the effort, saying the labels would be an additional burden. The labels are on certain cuts of beef, veal, chicken, pork, lamb and goat sold in the supermarket. Processed, deli and ground meats are exempt from the new rules.

Williams dismissed the First Amendment claims made by the American Meat Institute, which took the lead in the lawsuit, according to the AP:

Williams wrote that the labeling "enables a consumer to apply patriotic or protectionist criteria in the choice of meat," and "enables one who believes that United States practices and regulation are better at assuring food safety than those of other countries, or indeed the reverse, to act on that premise."

He said those goals are worthy of what he called a "minimal" intrusion on the meat industry's First Amendment rights.

American Meat Institute issued a statement saying it was disappointed by the ruling and that the group is "evaluating our options moving forward."

Groups representing smaller cattle producers, consumer groups and environmental interests applauded the decision.  

“It is refreshing that the appeals court confirmed what ranchers have known for the past decade – that COOL is good for the American livestock producers,” said Wilma Tope, a Wyoming rancher who, along with several groups like Food & Water Watch, worked on the case.

“Meat born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. stands for quality, safety, and family tradition. At last commonsense has prevailed, and the consumer has won.”