(CN) – Consumers can’t sue a meat maker over misleading labels if they’ve been approved by the federal government, the 10th Circuit said Friday, confirming the dismissal of a lawsuit against Tyson over wide use of the labels “Products of the United States”.
“Plaintiffs seek to impose a different standard, insisting that the labels are nonetheless misleading and misleading under state law and must be changed,” wrote Barack-appointed U.S. Circuit Judge Nancy Moritz. Obama, in the 21-page opinion.
“Allowing complainants to do so would impose a different requirement than what the Food Safety and Inspection Service has already approved as complying with the Federal Meat Inspection Act,” she continued.
In January 2020, a class of meat eaters and ranchers in New Mexico sued Tyson Foods, Cargill Meat Solutions, JBS USA Food Company, and National Beef Packing Company for mislabeling cattle raised overseas and shipped to the United States for slaughter and packing as “Products of the United States”. ”
Lead plaintiff Robin Thornton claimed the labels tricked customers into paying higher prices for meat they thought was raised on American soil. Michael Lucero, an independent rancher, said the meat industry scheme meant he was paid less at the market, even though he was actually raising domestic cattle.
A federal judge granted Tyson’s motion to dismiss in November 2020, finding that federal law prohibits meat manufacturers from inventing labels even if they are more accurate. Plaintiffs Robin Thornton and Michael Lucero appealed, but the majority of the 10th Circuit panel agreed that plaintiffs’ appeal could not be granted.
“In seeking to establish that Defendants’ federally-approved labels are nonetheless misleading and deceptive under state law, Plaintiffs seek to impose labeling requirements different from or in addition to the Federal requirements. Accordingly, we conclude that plaintiffs’ misleading labeling claims are expressly preempted by federal law,” Moritz wrote.
From 2008 to 2015, the United States used a four-tier labeling system, differentiating meat from the United States from meat from multiple countries of origin and from animals imported for slaughter. Under the scheme, the United States became embroiled in disputes with Canada, Mexico and the World Trade Organization, resulting in retaliatory tariffs exceeding $1 billion. Congress reinstated the pre-2008 general labeling requirements in 2015.
Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich, appointed by George W. Bush, joined the majority opinion. But Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero dissented, writing that the majority distorted a necessary balance between state and federal regulation embedded in law.
Lucero said the standards created in the federal meat inspection law were signed into law by President Teddy Roosevelt months after Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” was published.
“This sweeping statement reveals a clear intent to protect consumer safety and market integrity. But these efforts have not been delegated to the federal government alone,” Lucero wrote in his 8-page dissent. “The FMIA is littered with references to state and federal cooperation to protect consumers.”
In this context, Lucero focused on the statute’s provision for concurrent jurisdiction between the state and the federal government, rather than the majority’s emphasis on preemption.
Lucero said a label claiming “Product of USA” is misleading when applied to animals raised in the United States
“To the extent that consumers are deceived, the labels violate both the FMIA’s ban on misleading labels and the USDA’s own regulations prohibiting any beef label ‘giv[ing] any false indication of origin,” Lucero wrote. “By taking this plain text alongside the history and purpose of the FMIA, Congress certainly would not have intended to endorse deception as to the national origin of beef.”
Lawyers for Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath representing the meat producers did not immediately respond to request for comment.
A. Blair Dunn, an attorney with Western Agriculture, Resource and Business Advocates, said he intends to file a motion to have the case heard en banc.
“You can’t take away the ability of states and federalism to protect their citizens from this kind of predatory big business practices, and that was the whole goal behind the FMIA,” Dunn said. “We don’t plan to let this pass. This is too big a problem, both for the farming communities and for the consumers in the United States.