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October 31, 2013

Coalition Asks Court to Protect Consumers, Uphold Meat Labeling Rule

Labeling is critical to consumers, producers and improving animal welfare

Organization for Competitive Markets, United Farm Workers of America, American Grassfed Association

A coalition of advocates for family farmers, farm workers and animal welfare has joined with independent producers to defend the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s country-of-origin labeling regulations by filing an amicus curiae brief in support of the law. The regulations tell consumers the national origin of meat, seafood and other agricultural products for sale.

The Humane Society of the United States, along with Organization for Competitive Markets, United Farm Workers of America, American Grassfed Association and three independent, family-owned livestock farms filed a brief supporting the law in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.

A group of agribusiness industry trade associations representing large industrial meat producers and processors is challenging the recently-enacted regulations. Some of these associations, including American Meat Institute and North American Meat Association, have previously argued against basic protections for animals too sick and injured to walk on their own at the slaughter plant. 

The agribusiness industry plaintiffs filed a motion to temporarily prohibit the country-of-origin labeling regulations. The court denied that motion in September, and the case is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The country-of-origin labeling regulations require that meat products contain labels specifying where the livestock was born, raised and slaughtered. The regulations also prohibit the commingling of meat with different country-of-origin combinations in the same package at retail. Labeling provides consumers with important information in the marketplace, and helps consumers who want to buy from U.S. family farmers and ranchers who often use more humane and sustainable practices, rather than industrial corporations that may commingle meat products from several foreign countries.

Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation for The Humane Society of the United States, said: “Consumers deserve to know where their food comes from. And factory farming organizations that seek to have it otherwise are out of step with their customers.”  

Mike Callicrate, president of the Organization for Competitive Markets, said: “Big agribusiness has something to hide when they work this hard to keep consumers in the dark about where food comes from.”

Dr. Patricia Whisnant, DVM, president of American Grassfed Association, said: “The meat business needs more transparency, not less, and COOL is one way of giving consumers knowledge about where their meat comes from. People should be able to make educated decisions about their purchases, and whether they do or don't want to buy product that comes from another country, they should have a choice.”

Erik Nicholson, national vice president of the United Farm Workers said: "Country-of-origin labeling plays an important role in ensuring consumer confidence in agricultural products, which in turn benefits farm workers in the United States."

Kevin Fulton, co-owner of Fulton Farms, said: “Country-of-origin labeling allows consumers to make an educated choice, which ultimately helps the American family farmer.” 

The groups and farmers are represented by lawyers with The HSUS’ Animal Protection Litigation section.

Facts:

  • Enacted in 2002, the country-of-origin labeling statute gives consumers the ability to choose products from countries with high worker and animal care standards.
  • The country-of-origin labeling statute and regulations protect independent and family farmers by assuring their products will be clearly labeled.
  • A 2007 Consumers Union poll of a nationally representative sample of people found 92 percent of consumers agree imported food should have a country-of-origin label.

 Media Contact: Samantha Miller, 301-258-1417; smiller@humanesociety.org

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