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Meat Industry Claims First Amendment Prevents the Need for Country of Origin Labels


Your meat probably doesn't come from where you think it comes from…and the meat industry doesn't want you to know this. Meat industry groups have filed a complaint against the USDA over new Country of Origin Labeling rules (COOL).

COOL requires manufacturers to note on the label the country where their meat products originated. While we may still think our burgers and steaks come from nearby bucolic farms (which they can, of course), countries like Brazil are producing meat for the U.S. market cheaper than we can raise it here in the U.S.—subsidies and all.

As of May, the COOL regulations now require that meat manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada have to also include any countries the meat may have visited before arriving in your supermarket. In other words, if it was born in Brazil but raised in Argentina and then slaughtered in Mexico, the meat label needs to reflect that. And the meat industry isn't too happy about it.

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From the Organic Authority Files

According to The Consumerist, eight meat industry groups filed a complaint against the USDA in an effort to overturn the "born, raised, and slaughtered" information requirements. The plaintiffs suggest it violates First Amendment rights to free speech—or in this case, choosing not to speak about where meat comes from. The groups go on to suggest that the label requirements don't even show a reason why they're beneficial to public health. The ruling also prohibits comingling animal products originating from other countries. The meat industry says that to track and segregate the animals based on their nation of origin is too much of a burden for U.S. meat suppliers and their partners to coordinate.

“Segregating and tracking animals according to the countries where production steps occurred and detailing that information on a label may be a bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy,” the American Meat Institute wrote in a statement, “but the labels that result will serve only to confuse consumers, raise the prices they pay, and put some producers and meat and poultry companies out of business in the process.”

The USDA stands by its ruling on COOL. And if that seems a little unusual—the USDA going against the food industry's wishes—it's because there's a need to comply with U.S. international trade obligations. So it's less a decision about consumers' rights to know and more in the interest of not losing import/export partnerships with countries who want American meat despite the fact that the animals only visit to U.S. soil may have only been once they were carved and frozen.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: marissa strniste

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