The American Meat Institute (AMI), along with seven other meat and livestock organizations representing the United States, Canada, and Mexico, filed an action this week challenging USDA’s recent mandatory country of origin rule. Issued by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) on May 24, the final rule would revise existing regulations to require covered products to include labels individually designating the country where the animal was “born,” the country where the animal was “raised,” and the country where the animal was “slaughtered.” The regulation would also prohibit the currently widespread industry practice of processing animals together that have been born or raised in different countries.
The complaint alleges that the rule should be invalidated on three distinct grounds. First, AMI argues that the regulation violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by impermissibly compelling speech. Under the First Amendment, the government cannot compel speech unless that speech advances a substantial government interest and the regulation is no more extensive than necessary. AMI argues that the “Revised Regulations do not serve any governmental interest, let alone a substantial one.” Along those lines, the complaint explains that AMS did not justify the regulation with a health or safety rationale and that courts have held that consumer curiosity alone is not a substantial government interest in of itself.
Second, the complaint argues that the rule exceeded AMS’s authority granted by the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, which specifically defined “country of origin” for specific types of meat. Because those definitions do not address where the source animal was born and raised, the complaint alleges that AMS exceeded its authority in requiring labels to bear those distinctions. AMS was also not authorized to restructure the production, distribution, and packaging systems for meat production, which the prohibition against commingling allegedly does, according to the complaint.
Third, the complaint alleges that AMS violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to respond to evidence and analysis supporting an alternative approach. The revised regulation was issued in response to a 2012 World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling that existing regulations violated the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade by imposing burdens on the supply chain that discriminated on livestock exports from Canada and Mexico. According to the complaint, the revised regulations would only exacerbate discrimination against livestock exports from Canada and Mexico and, therefore, more flagrantly violate the WTO Agreement.
We will continue to monitor the case and post updates here.