Businesses Lose Free Speech Challenge to Federal Labeling Regulations

On July 29, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in American Meat Institute v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, No. 13-5281, upheld a 2013 regulation implemented by the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture pertaining to labeling of meat products.

The 2013 regulation revised a previous rule and now requires labels on “muscle cuts” of meat (covered meat other than ground meat, which is governed by 7 U.S.C. § 1638a(a)(2)(E)) to list the country of origin and production information such as when and where animals were born, raised and slaughtered in each country. The 2013 regulation also eliminated the prior rule’s a practice whereby meat cuts from animals of different countries of origin, processed on the same day, could all bear identical labels. The 2013 regulation can be found here.

The purpose of the 2013 regulation identified by the USDA is “to provide consumers with more specific information and other modifications to enhance the overall operation of the program.” However, the American Meat Institute’s interim president issued a statement: “We have maintained all along that the country of origin rule harms livestock producers and the industry and affords little benefit to consumers.”

The issue addressed by the Court was whether the government can only require disclosures when its objective is to prevent deception or whether it has broader authority that covers other types of speech. The U.S. Appeals Court adopted the latter interpretation. The consequence of this ruling could potentially give the government more freedom to compel speech in different regulatory circumstances. This rationale embraced by the court may be applied in other cases where business interests object to regulations on free speech grounds. It is presently unknown whether the American Meat Institute will seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you are subject to government labeling regulations and require legal assistance to determine your business obligations, contact the Business Lawyers at The Jacobs Law today! Click here to contact us now.