Groups sue Agriculture Secretary over meat-labeling rule

By Michael P. Tremoglie | Sep 11, 2012


DENVER (Legal Newsline) - Several advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado against the World Trade Organization, Obama's Secretary of Agriculture and his trade representative.

They are seeking to invalidate the organization's recent ruling against the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling law.

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund of Billings, Mont., joined with the Made in the USA Foundation and Melonhead (a meat and vegetable distributor), to sue the WTO, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. They state they are protecting Americans' right to know the origin of their food.

The groups are alleging that Vilsack and Kirk failed to protect and preserve U.S. sovereignty by allowing the WTO to rule against COOL, which requires all food such as fruit, vegetables, beef, chicken and fish to be labeled with its country of origin. The World Trade Organization claims COOL discriminates against foreign meat.

Canada and Mexico filed a complaint against the United States with the WTO alleging that COOL illegally discriminated against Canadian and Mexican beef because it required country of origin labeling. The WTO appointed three individuals, in lieu of judges, to hear the complaint.

One Portuguese citizen, one Pakistani citizen and a Swiss citizen ruled on the complaint. They ruled that COOL violates the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

The WTO's Appellate Body affirmed this on June 29, ruling that COOL is inconsistent with GATT and the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement.

The Appellate Body consisted of a representative from India, Mexico and Belgium. The plaintiffs state that the Mexican member has an obvious "conflict of interest since Mexico was a party to the case, and he should have been disqualified as an appellate jurist."

They are claiming also that "U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is in the process of negotiating with Canada and Mexico to amend, and water-down, the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling Act."

The plaintiffs, "seek a mandatory order that Secretary Vilsack implement and enforce the Country of Origin Labeling Act as enacted by Congress and signed by the President that provides that U.S. beef be labeled as from the United States and not be mixed or confused with beef from other countries including Mexico and Canada." They want the court to order Vilsack and Kirk to stop negotiating with Mexico and Canada to amend COOL and they want the court to declare the WTO's COOL ruling null and void.

"R-CALF USA is proud to join as a co-plaintiff with the Made in the USA Foundation in our lawsuit to protect and preserve the right of all Americans to know the origins of their food," said Mike Schultz, an R-CALF official.

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