The Free Press, Mankato, MN


January 14, 2014

Our View: Meat industry shirks duty

Why it matters: It's reasonable for consumers to know where their meat comes from.

The meat industry’s legal assault against a new food labeling law is based on a puzzling legal argument and counters the industry’s claims it has consumers’ needs at the forefront.

At a federal appeals court hearing last week, meat companies asked the court to kill new government labeling standards that require meat producers and processors to list the countries where animals used in their products are born, raised and slaughtered.

Clearly consumers have an interest in knowing where the meat they eat comes from and providing that information is any easy enough task for meat companies. The meat industry has managed to stay exempt from many of the decades-old labeling rules in place for most other food products.

But the industry, in a novel legal approach that suggest they’ve run out of any legitimate legal moves, argued the ruling violates the companies’ “free speech” because it forces them to reveal information that will not protect the public.

Indeed, the meat industry failed to get the rules changed by lobbying Congress and a lower court has dismissed their objections.

The new U.S. Department of Agriculture rules were not primarily intended for health protection but rather to supply information consumers clearly indicate they want. Right now, meat labels are vague, with co-mingled meat from several countries put into many meat products.

But consumers have every right to be cautious about meat coming from some foreign countries.

In the past year, nearly 1,000 people in China were arrested for selling meat labeled as lamb that was actually rat, mink and fox meat. A few years ago, Chinese consumers were made ill by Chinese-raised pigs that had been given illegal steroids.

Mexico has had similar problems of steroids showing up in its livestock.

The fact is that some countries have a much better track record of monitoring their food products than others and consumers should be able to make choices based on adequate information about origins of meat.

The meat industry’s ongoing attempts to shirk its responsibility to consumers seems diversionary at best.

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