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Media Alerts - American Meat Institute v. United States Department of Agriculture
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March 28, 2014
  American Meat Institute v. United States Department of Agriculture
Headline: D.C. Circuit rejects First Amendment challenge to Department of Agriculture rule compelling disclosure of the countries of origin of meat, applying Zauderer standard beyond the context of avoiding consumer deception.

Area of Law: First Amendment, Administrative Law
Issue Presented: Whether requiring meat packaging to label the country where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered violates the First Amendment or exceeds statutory authority.

Brief Summary: The American Meat Institute (AMI), a group of trade associations representing livestock producers, feedlot operators, and meat packers, brought suit against the Department of Agriculture challenging a rule requiring meat labels to disclose where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. They sought a preliminary injunction, arguing that the rule exceeded the scope of its statutory authority under the country-of-origin labelling statute (COOL) and that the compelled disclosures violated their First Amendment rights. The District Court for the District of Columbia denied the injunction, finding that AMI was unlikely to succeed on the merits.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed, holding both that the agency's interpretation of the COOL statute is reasonable and that the rule does not violate AMI's First Amendment rights. The court concluded first that the agency was within the bounds of reasonableness to interpret COOL to require labeling at each step of the production process, finding that this did not conflict with the statute's seemingly permissive language allowing the retailers to choose the country of origin for animals spending time in multiple countries. Turning to the First Amendment claim, the court applied the framework of Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626, 651 (1985), which applies to requirements that a company disclose factual and non-controversial information, rather than that of Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission, 447 U.S. 557, 566 (1980), the general test for commercial speech. Zauderer minimized companies' First Amendment interests in not providing purely factual information. Although Zauderer said that informational mandates are consistent with the First Amendment as long as the "disclosure requirements are reasonably related to the State's interest in preventing deception of consumers," the D.C. Circuit held that the state's interest was not limited to deception and is also applicable to disclosures required for other purposes. Finding that the government's interests were sufficient to justify the minimal intrusion on AMI's First Amendment interests, the court found AMI unlikely to succeed on the merits and affirmed the decision of the district court.
For the full text of this opinion, please visit

Panel (if known): Garland, Srinivasan, and Williams

Argument Date (if known): January 9, 2014

Date of Issued Opinion: March 28, 2014

Docket Number: 13-5281

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Joseph T. Maher, Jr.

Counsel (if known): Catherine E. Stetson, Jonathan L. Abram, Judith E. Coleman, Mary Helen Wimberly, and Elizabeth B. Prelogar for appellants. Daniel Tenny, Stuart F. Delery, Ronald C. Machen Jr., and Mark B. Stern for appellees.

Author of Opinion: Williams

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elizabeth Earle Beske, Ripple Weistling

    Posted By: Ripple Weistling @ 03/28/2014 03:43 PM     DC Circuit  

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