Farm, Ranch and Consumer Groups Applaud Federal Appeals Court COOL Ruling

Washington, D.C. - Four groups representing, farmers and ranchers, rural communities and consumers that joined the Federal Appeals case as amici curiae to defend mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) applauded today's Federal Appeals Court ruling that denied a preliminary injunction against enforcing COOL and found that the meatpacking industry was "unlikely to succeed on the merits of its claims." In October 2013, R-CALF USA, Food & Water Watch, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and the Western Organization of Resource Councils joined the case as amici and, in August, the groups joined the Federal District Court as intervenors.

The decision relied on arguments in the four groups' amicus brief that documented the justification of country of origin labeling for consumers to make informed decisions about the quality and potential safety of the meat they purchase.

"The Federal Appeals Court correctly affirmed the legitimate consumer interest in being able to make informed choices about the origin and safety of their meat products," said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. "The court recognized that COOL labels should be transparent and informative enough for consumers to make these choices, including, as the Court observed, the consumer, '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.'"

The Court's decision also bolstered the interpretation of the World Trade Organization ruling that appeared to object to "the relative imprecision of the information required by the 2009 rule."

The "imprecision" of the earlier COOL rule's labels was what the meatpacking industry demanded – including confusing "commingled" mixed-origin label that allowed meat from all-American born and raised livestock to be labeled as if it were a product of multiple countries. The Appeals Court recognized that this imprecision was remedied by USDA's final 2013 rule that required born, raised and slaughtered production step labels.

"Our cattle-producing members have worked hard to ensure that COOL is implemented in a way that allows them to highlight beef from their cattle that are born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. and we are pleased the court has determined that we have the right to continue doing so," said Bob Fortune, President of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.

The 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills directed USDA to implement these sensible labels. This unanimous Appeals Court ruling defends the rights of consumers to have basic information about where their food was produced, despite the well-heeled foreign and domestic meatpacker lobby's fight for more than a dozen years to prevent COOL's implementation.

"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 rancher for 30 years near Aladdin, Wyoming, who submitted an affidavit in the suit and is a member of the WORC affiliate, the Powder River Basin Resource Council. "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."

The Federal Appeals Court ruling suggests that the entire Circuit Court might want to hear the merits of the meatpackers' challenge that accurate and precise COOL production step labels violate their freedom of speech. But, the Circuit Court may not see this as necessary and the case could return directly to the District Court for a final ruling. In any event, COOL advocates maintain that it is entirely reasonable for COOL labels to prevent deception through precise labels that display "purely factual and non-controversial information."

"We believe the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the American Meat Institute should honor this important court decision and cease their incessant attacks on our nation's COOL law in their efforts to hide the true origins of meat from U.S. consumers. COOL is needed so U.S. livestock producers can offer consumers a choice to buy USA beef that is produced by U.S. farmers and ranchers," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

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