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Organic Consumers Association

Big Meat Imitates Big Tobacco in Fighting the Public's Right to Know

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Factory Farming page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

Eight meatpacking industry groups recently sued to stop implementation of the popular Country of Origin Label (COOL) law (supported by 93 percent of Americans) that was passed back in 2008.

Proceeding from the commonsense notion (and economic principle) that in a free market, buyers should have access to sufficient information to make educated choices, the law required retailers to tell customers the country of origin of a variety of foods, including meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts. I might not know where all the pieces of my cell phone were made-and there are serious issues with that-but I don't plan to eat my phone. Why shouldn't I be able to know where my food comes from?

The big meat companies have objected the loudest to COOL. Canadian and Mexican meat groups took the U.S. to court at the World Trade Organization (WTO) when the USDA first announced its regulations for implementing COOL, charging that the rules would discriminate against them, and they won. To the Obama Administration's credit, they issued a revised rule that actually strengthened COOL, requiring more detail about where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The current suit is intended to block the revised regulations that were issued this spring in response to the WTO ruling.

Big Meat's argument? The law violates their right to free speech, by compelling them to provide information that they would not provide voluntarily. This is the same argument a coalition of tobacco companies used when they sued to block enhanced warning label requirements on cigarette packages. The Supreme Court has traditionally made a distinction between political speech, which is strictly protected by the Constitution, and commercial speech, (intended to "propose a commercial transaction") but as the Court has become more and more friendly to their interests, corporations are getting increasingly aggressive in asserting their new-found rights. And the right to keep us in the dark is among them. Big Meat wants us to believe, as their legal complaint states, that "beef is beef, whether the steer or heifer was born in Montana, Manitoba, or Mazatl├ín. The same goes for hogs, chickens, and other livestock."     


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