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Meat processors sue USDA over labels

New rules on meat labeling are costly to implement and offer no public benefit, an industry group claims.

Todd Korol/Reuters

New rules on meat labeling are costly to implement and offer no public benefit, an industry group claims.

DES MOINES — Requiring meat labels to have more details about a product’s origins is too costly and serves no public health or safety benefit, industry groups said Tuesday in announcing a lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture over new labeling rules.

The rules went into effect in May and require labels for steaks, ribs, and other cuts of meat to detail where animals grown for meat were born, raised, and slaughtered. Previously, labels only required that countries of origin be noted, so a package might say, ‘‘Product of US and Canada.’’ Now, the labels must specify ‘‘Born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States.’’

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In addition, the USDA is prohibiting processors from mixing meat from animals born, raised, or slaughtered in Mexico, Canada, or other countries with meat from the United States.

The American Meat Institute, a trade group for packers, processors, and suppliers and seven other groups said segregating the meat is not part of the law Congress passed and the USDA is overstepping its authority. They also claim the rule will be costly to implement and offers no public health benefit.

The USDA said the country of original labeling, known as COOL, will help consumers make informed decisions about the food they buy.

‘‘USDA remains confident that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with US international trade obligations,’’ it said.

Other advocates of the new rule agree and say segregating meat will help if a food safety issue develops.

‘‘If there’s a food safety problem with a certain product, the labels can help consumers avoid that product,” said Ami Gadhia, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, a New York-based consumer advocacy group.

The meat industry groups that sued said in court documents that about 4 percent to 7 percent of beef and pork consumed here comes from animals from other countries.

Once in the supply chain, the meat becomes interchangeable with meat from US animals, the groups said.

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