American Meat Institute v. USDA

August 19, 2014

In July of 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (the ‰ÛÏDC Circuit‰Û) decided an In July of 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (the ‰DC Circuit‰) decided an important case regarding the authority government agencies have to require accurate disclosures on foods and other regulated products, such as tobacco. The case arose when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) changed the regulations on meat labeling to require more accurate labeling of their country of origin. Complex rules allowed meat to be labeled as coming from one country, despite the animal possibly being born, raised, and slaughtered in three different countries. The new regulations would necessitate more accurate labeling that allows consumers to know where the animals were for each stage. The meat industry challenged the new regulations in court, saying the system is overly burdensome and violates their First Amendment right to free speech by compelling them to put more detailed information on the package. The industry argues that the government can only compel speech when it is intendedto prevent consumer deception. A federal trial judge and then a three-judge panel of the DC Circuit upheld the new USDA regulations; plaintiffs appealed the case in a rare en banc proceeding that included 11 judges from the DC Circuit. In a victory for the public health, the en banc panel ruled in July that the regulationswill stand. The outcome of the case has wide implications for consumer protection laws, as the DC Circuit applies to future cases of agencies regulating mandatory labels. ACS CAN, along with a number of tobacco control and other public health organizations, filed as friends of the court to help the en banc panel understand the wide array of current laws that would be endangered by reversing the panel. Our brief provides a compendium of these laws, and explains the crucial role they play in public safety at the national, state, and local levels. Some of these laws prevent deception, but often they are used for safety or informed individual decision-making. Read our brief.