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Meat Industry Launches Legal Assault against New U.S. Country of Origin Labeling Rules

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Politics and Democracy page and our CAFO's vs. Free Range page.

WASHINGTON - The meat industry launched a legal assault Thursday against the nation's food labeling laws that, if successful, could significantly limit consumers' ability to learn the origins of what they eat.

The move came in a federal appeals court hearing where trade associations representing meat companies such as Minnesota-based Cargill Inc. and Hormel Foods Corp. attempted to kill new government labeling standards.

Their lawyer said the labeling rules violate companies' free speech by forcing them to reveal information that will not protect the public, but will cause "irreparable" financial harm to the largest segment of U.S. agriculture, which generates hundreds of billions of dollars a year in sales.

At issue are newly implemented U.S. Department of Agriculture rules that force meat producers and processors to list the countries where animals used in their products are born, raised and slaughtered.

Industry attorney Cate Stetson told a three-judge panel that the USDA has not demonstrated that meat producers, processors and retailers have deceived consumers by not offering specific information about animals' countries of origin.

A government lawyer countered that new labeling rules are not about "misleading information, but incomplete information."

"Consumers have expressed an interest in knowing where their meat is coming from," said Department of Justice attorney Daniel Tenny.

The high-profile case is a vital test of labeling laws and regulations. It came after a lower court judge refused to delay implementation of the new rules.

The meat debate boils down to the availability of information. The government says people have a right to know where the meat they eat comes from. The meat industry says that "vague consumer interest" alone does not justify what it considers an infringement of its First Amendment protections.

The appeals court panel will not render a decision for weeks. But the judges ¬≠questioned Stetson extensively about the meat industry's take on consumer rights, as well as the need to share information with federal regulators.  


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