Full appeals court to hear country-of-origin labeling case

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Posted: Saturday, April 5, 2014 12:00 am

Meat producers including Hormel Foods Group will get another chance to challenge country-of-origin labeling rules in a case pitting corporate free-speech rights against the government’s regulatory reach.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on Friday threw out a March 28 ruling by a three-judge panel upholding the Department of Agriculture’s labeling requirements. The full court of 11 judges will now decide whether regulators can constitutionally require a company to provide only information that corrects a deception or can go further and demand data for other purposes, including consumer choice.

The regulations, which were adopted in May and took full effect in November, require producers to specify the country or countries where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Retail packages can’t mix muscle cuts from different countries under a general label.

Country-of-origin labeling is opposed by meatpackers, led by the American Meat Institute, which claim that it forces them to segregate animals and raises costs. They also argued the rules are a form of unconstitutional compelled speech.

In deciding to rehear that part of the case, the full circuit followed a footnote in the panel’s March 28 ruling that urged the entire court to resolve which of two earlier cases it should use to analyze the issue of meat labeling.

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