Ranch groups say USDA allows meatpackers to pass off imported meat as domestic
November 7, 2017
SPOKANE, Wash. – Last week, co-plaintiffs R-CALF USA and the Cattle Producers of Washington filed a brief for summary judgement in their country-of-origin labeling case in the federal district court located in Spokane, Wash. The groups seek to reinstate that portion of the recently repealed COOL law that required beef and pork imported from foreign countries to retain their origin labels all the way to the consumer.
The brief alleges that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is knowingly violating U.S. law by not requiring meatpackers to carry forward the country-of-origin labels that are on the packages and containers when meat is imported, so that origin information is passed along to consumers rather than stripped off the products.
It alleges the USDA is allowing meatpackers to remove origin labels even after the agency itself, its attorneys, and the Congressional Research Service have acknowledged that the USDA's regulations are in conflict with U.S. law.
The groups further state that rather than comply with the law, the USDA allows multinational meatpackers to reclassify foreign meat as a domestic product even if all the meatpackers do is unwrap and rewrap the imported product.
They state the USDA then allows the repackaged foreign product to be labeled as a "Product of the U.S.A."
"Accordingly, the packers, who control nearly the entire market, only compensate domestic producers based on what they would pay for foreign meat, produced free from the United States' food safety, production and labor laws," the groups state.
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They argue the USDA is aiding multinational meatpackers while undermining the viability of domestic ranchers.
The groups explain that before Congress' repeal, this problem was resolved because the COOL law required labels on imported meat to be retained "through retail sale." Consequently, companies could no longer pass off imported meat as domestic and they had to compensate domestic producers at a premium rate for their premium domestic product.
The brief asserts that R-CALF USA and CPoW's members receive increased compensation for their cattle when they can market it as fully produced in the United States because of the high consumer demand for domestically produced beef.
And, it states, that when Congress repealed COOL, the meatpackers began paying domestic producers at the rate of the lowest common denominator of beef – what they pay for foreign meat.
The groups' members have been told by multinational meatpackers that if COOL returns, the packers would again have to pay a premium for domestic cattle.
Put simply, the groups argue the USDA is unlawfully undermining their market for domestic cattle and their lawsuit is needed because the proper enforcement of labeling requirements on imported beef is central to domestic ranchers' livelihood.
Attorneys representing the ranch groups include David S. Muraskin, a food safety and health attorney at Public Justice; Beth E. Terrell and Blythe H. Chandler of Terrell Marshall Law Group; and J. Dudley Butler of Butler Farm & Ranch Law Group, PLLC.