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WTO Rules on Country of Origin Labeling

WTO Rules on Country of Origin Labeling

October 23, 2014

Authored by: Sara Ahmed and Brandon Neuschafer

You may recall prior Digest posts regarding the World Trade Organization’s evaluation of the validity of the US Country of Origin Labeling (“COOL”) law.

On Monday, the WTO decided against the United States and has held that the COOL violates international fair trade rules. This is the third time the WTO has found COOL to be unfairly discriminatory and it is instigating Canada and Mexico to prepare to impose trade sanctions on US products such as wine and chocolate.

Consumer groups have also voiced their disappointment about the recent decision. Renee Hunt, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, an organic advocacy group, said: “It comes at the expense of consumers and American livestock farmers…Consumers want to have the choice of where their meat comes from, but, instead, Big Ag’s interests are protected.”  Chris Waldrop, policy director at

USDA Prevails at the D.C. Circuit

USDA Prevails at the D.C. Circuit

July 31, 2014

Authored by: Sara Ahmed and Brandon Neuschafer

Yesterday, a D.C. Circuit decision came down upholding the country of origin labeling requirements (“COOL”). COOL is the law that requires retailers licensed under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act to, among other things, label certain meat products with information regarding where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered.

In yesterday’s ruling, the Court took an expansive approach to the Zauderer standard and held that, at least in the context of meat labeling, the government can compel commercial speech for reasons beyond preventing deception.

Included in those reasons the court cited to were: “the context and long history of country-of-origin disclosures to enable consumers to choose American-made products; the demonstrated consumer interest in extending country-of-origin labeling to food products; and the individual health concerns and market impacts that can arise in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.”

Dissenting Judge Janice Rogers Brown criticized that the ruling means “a business owner no longer has a

“Ascertainability” and food labeling class actions in the 9th Cir.

July 30, 2014

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Defendants often raise ascertainability when opposing class certification in food, beverage, and personal care products labeling litigation. District courts in the Ninth Circuit, however, sometimes reach different conclusions regarding a putative class representative’s burden when it comes to establishing ascertainability. Indeed, the subject has led to divergent decisions in the Northern District of California (often called “the food court”), with judges in that district commenting on the intra-district split. Two recent decisions, however, bolster defendants’ arguments that ascertainability in contested class certification proceedings (as opposed to settlement classes) is a significant hurdle for such plaintiffs to overcome.

Martin v. Pacific Parking Systems Inc., 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 14200 (9th Cir. July 25, 2014), didn’t address consumer product labeling, but it addressed ascertainability. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification of claims under the Fair and Accurate Credit Reporting Act. While this is an unpublished decision and short on

“All Natural” Litigation and Settlements on the Rise

Litigation surrounding “all natural” claims has been ramping up, and settlements are on the rise.

Naked Juice paid $9 million dollars to settle claims about the “all natural” branding of its juices in 2013.  As of February 6th, Trader Joe’s is following suit and plans to pay out $3.38 million dollars in addition to discontinuing the use of “all natural” and “100% natural” on products that include ascorbic acid, cocoa processed with alkali, sodium acid pyrophosphate, vegetable mono- and diglycerides, and xanthan gum.

The FDA’s failure to define “natural” is contributing to the flurry of “all natural” consumer class actions, and there is no sign that the FDA plans to provide a definition anytime soon.  On January 6, 2014 the FDA declined a request from three federal judges for clarification of the meaning “natural.”

With little guidance from the FDA, companies are trying to find their own ways of avoiding costly lawsuits.  For some, re-branding is the

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