Court grants motion for groups to intervene in COOL lawsuit

Aug 23, 2013

A U.S. District Court has given the okay for several groups to intervene in the country of origin labeling (COOL) lawsuit.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has entered an order granting the motion by the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), National Farmers Union (NFU), the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA) to intervene in full in the country of origin labeling (COOL) lawsuit filed on July 8.

Jon Wooster, USCA President, said in a press release that the court’s decision to permit the groups to intervene is good news. “Plaintiffs had filed a partial opposition to our motion to intervene, opposing our participation in the preliminary injunction but taking no position on our participating in the part of the litigation that deals with the merits. The court’s order granting our motion to intervene makes clear that we can participate at the preliminary injunction hearing as well as in the remainder of the litigation.”

The lawsuit seeking to halt the implementation and enforcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) COOL regulations was filed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), American Meat Institute, North American Meat Association, National Pork Producers Council, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, American Association of Meat Processors, Southwest Meat Association and Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations. On July 26, the plaintiffs announced that they had filed a motion with the court seeking a preliminary injunction.

“We have filed briefs with the court presenting our opposition to the preliminary injunction motion filed by the plaintiffs,” noted Wooster. “The court has given plaintiffs an August 22 deadline to reply to our opposition to the preliminary injunction, and a hearing has been set for August 27.”

Mr. Wooster continued, “We are pleased that we have been allowed to intervene in the litigation and that our materials are now before the court. USCA and its fellow intervenors are strong advocates to ensure that consumers in fact know where their beef is from. The revised regulations announced on May 23 of this year will surely reduce consumer confusion. For producers, providing consumers with accurate information on where an animal has been born and raised gives cow/calf operators, backgrounders and feedlots a chance to differentiate their product as indeed born, raised and slaughtered in the United States when the animal is processed in our country. A preliminary injunction, if granted, would further delay consumers having the type of information Congress has long wanted and that all of us who believe in COOL have been seeking through the regulatory process.”

Meanwhile, Canada has asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to take another look at meat labeling rule, sighting lost sales to U.S. packers.

Canada is requesting that the WTO form a compliance panel to review COOL according to Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and International Trade Minister Ed Fast. The move continues the growing dispute that some believe is destined to turn into a trade war.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) has encouraged the Government of Canada to pursue this action announced by Fast and Agriculture and Ritz. The Government of Canada’s request will be considered by the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) on August 30.

A compliance panel would determine if the USDA May 23 COOL amendment complies with the U.S.’s WTO obligations. The amendment was intended to address the July 2012 WTO DSB finding that COOL causes discrimination against imported cattle in the U.S. marketplace. The Government of Canada and the CCA share the position that the U.S. amendment is not in compliance with the WTO.

A WTO compliance panel ruling in Canada’s favor would allow the Government of Canada to seek retaliatory compensation of approximately $1.1 billion on U.S. commodities that could be targeted for retaliation in relation to the COOL dispute. The Government of Canada released the list of commodities being considered for retaliation in June.

CCA President Martin Unrau said the compliance panel would be composed of the original WTO panel members, if they are available, and that CCA is confident that Canada’s case is compelling.

This WTO proceeding will move forward independently of the U.S. based litigation..

The CCA’s position remains that the only outcome that would bring the U.S. into compliance with the WTO ruling of July 2012 is to amend the COOL legislation to allow either a single mandatory label for all meat produced in the U.S. or to allow for voluntary labeling. The CCA has to date spent in excess of $2 million in legal and advocacy expenses to fight COOL. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor