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Media Alerts - American Meat Institute v. U.S. Department of Agriculture
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July 29, 2014
  American Meat Institute v. U.S. Department of Agriculture
Headline: En Banc D.C. Circuit applies Zauderer beyond context of preventing consumer deception to uphold mandatory labels on meat products.

Area of Law: First Amendment; consumer protection

Issue(s) Presented: Whether Zauderer or Central Hudson governs challenge to compelled country-of-origin labels on meat products, and whether the regulation requiring the labels withstands scrutiny under the appropriate standard.

Brief Summary: A federal statute requires country-of-origin labels on meat products, defining "country of origin" based on where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. 7 U.S.C. ยง 1638a(a)(2). Implementing this requirement, the Secretary of Agriculture issued a 2013 Rule requiring precise information about the location of each step in the production process and eliminating flexibility with respect to commingled animals. The American Meat Institute (AMI) challenged the 2013 Rule on statutory and First Amendment grounds. An initial panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of preliminary injunction, finding plaintiffs unlikely to succeed on the merits. The panel believed that Zauderer extends beyond the prevention of consumer deception but, because prior opinions left this conclusion in some doubt, proposed that the case be reheard en banc. The full court voted to do so.

On rehearing en banc, the full court agreed that Zauderer is not limited to preventing consumer deception and that the rationale of the case applied to other government interests. Rejecting rigid application of the Central Hudson test, the court noted that there are "material differences between disclosure requirements and outright prohibitions on speech" and that the comparatively lenient Zauderer test governed the former context, where the speaker's interest in opposing forced disclosure of purely factual information is "minimal." The court stopped short of drawing clear lines between the two tests, though, noting that the Zauderer test employed in the case of compulsory factual disclosures can really be seen as a specialized application of Central Hudson, "where several of Central Hudson's elements have already been established." Turning to the government's interests, the court credited as substantial the government's asserted interest in enabling consumers to choose American-made products and providing information to mitigate concern over food-borne illness outbreaks. Finally, the court found that the regulation had a reasonable fit to the asserted interest because a disclosure mandate self-evidently assures that recipients get the mandated information. Because the Rule passed muster under the Zauderer test, the court reinstated the panel decision affirming the district court.

Judge Rogers concurred on the basis that Zauderer applied to disclosure requirements but rejected the suggestion that Zauderer was simply a specialized application of the Central Hudson test. Judge Kavanaugh, concurring in the judgment, noted that the country-of-origin requirements were longstanding and commonplace requirements. Although he agreed with the majority opinion, he analyzed the case under the Central Hudson test.

Judge Henderson and Judge Brown dissented on the basis that Zauderer was intended solely to prevent consumer deception and that broadening its scope created a new standard of review "even more relaxed than rational basis review."

For the full text of opinion, please visit

Panel: En banc

Argument Date: May 19, 2014

Date of Issued Opinion: July 29, 2014

Docket Number: 13-5281

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Albertine Guez

Counsel: 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 Supervisors: Elizabeth Earle Beske, Ripple Weistling

    Posted By: Ripple Weistling @ 07/29/2014 04:23 PM     DC Circuit  

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