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Three men have been convicted and sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to sell at least 30 metric tons of horse meat as beef. The owner of a Danish supplier was sentenced to 3.5 years, while the company’s accountant received a suspended sentence. In addition, the owner of a London meat processor was given a 4.5- year sentence. The fraud was discovered in 2013, when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found horse meat in a shipment detained for inspection in Northern Ireland. According to The Guardian, inspectors found microchips for three horses previously owned as pets or riding horses. The scheme reportedly may have involved as many as 50,000 horses from across Europe. Additional details about the scheme appear in Issues 560 and 641 of this Update.   Issue 643

Europol has announced the arrests of 66 people following a four-year investigation into an organized-crime group accused of selling horsemeat "not suitable for consumption" as beef products. The investigation began in 2013 after Irish authorities found products sold as beef burgers that contained horsemeat and led to a Dutch man in Spain alleged to be the leader of the scheme. According to Europol's July 16, 2017, press release, "Investigators concluded that the Spanish element of this organisation was a small part of the whole European structure controlled by the Dutch suspect."   Issue 641

Two livestock trade associations have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) alleging the agency’s 2016 repeal of marking and labeling regulations violates the Meat Inspection Act and the Tariff Act. Ranchers-­Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of Am. v. U.S. Dept of Agric., No. 17-­0223 (E.D. Wash., filed June 19, 2017). The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF) and the Cattle Producers of Washington (CPW) assert that the Meat Inspection Act requires that meat from animals slaughtered outside the United States be “marked and labeled as required for imported articles” and the Tariff Act requires “conspicuous” marking “as to indicate to an ultimate purchaser in the United States the English name of the country of origin of the article." After a World Trade Organization ruling against a U.S. requirement to include country­-of­-origin labeling (COOL) on imports of livestock from Canada and Mexico, USDA…

The holding company of Brazilian meatpacker JBS SA has reportedly agreed to pay a $3.2­-billion fine for the company’s involvement in a graft and bribery scandal involving more than 1,800 politicians, including President Michel Temer and former President Dilma Rousseff. J&F Investimentos, co-­owned by brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, will pay the fine to U.S. and Brazilian authorities over a period of 25 years. Joesley Batista stepped down as chairman and member of the JBS SA board of directors; Wesley Batista has resigned from the board but remains chief executive of the company. The Batistas purportedly told Brazilian federal prosecutors they had paid about $186 million in bribes to politicians, and JBS SA had already agreed to pay $183.8 million to settle its criminal liability for the bribes. See NPR, May 31, 2017.   Issue 636  

A California plaintiff has filed a projected class action against Omaha Steaks alleging the company’s shipping and handling charges “greatly exceed” the actual cost of shipping items to consumers. McCoy v. Omaha Steaks Int’l, No. BC658076 (Sup. Ct. Cal., Los Angeles Cty., filed April 14, 2017). The plaintiff asserts that he was charged $15.99 in shipping and handling fees for a jar of dry rub, allegedly twice what he would have paid had the product been shipped by the U.S. Postal Service. The complaint relies on the Direct Marketing Association’s ethical guidelines on shipping charges, which purportedly recommend charges be “reasonably related” to actual costs and disclosed early in the order process.   Issue 632

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has upheld the convictions of Midamar Corp., founder William Aossey and his son Jalel Aossey, perpetrators of a scheme to falsely label meat as halal. U.S. v. Aossey, Nos. 16­1611, 16­1688, 16­1761 (8th Cir., order entered April 14, 2017). The court rejected the defendants’ arguments that the Department of Agriculture has sole jurisdiction over criminal prosecutions pursuant to the Meat Inspection Act, ruling that the federal statute did not include a “clear and unambiguous” expression that the Agriculture Department’s authority is exclusive. Additional details on the case against Midamar and the Aosseys appear in Issues 550, 572 and 596 of this Update.   Issue 632

Sen. Jon Tester (D-­Mont.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D­-Conn.) have urged the federal government to act in response to a Brazilian investigation allegedly finding that more than 100 of the country's health inspectors allowed the sale of rancid meat, falsified export documents or failed to inspect meatpacking plants. Tester introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate purporting to temporarily ban Brazilian beef imports. "A 120-­day ban will provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture time to comprehensively investigate food safety threats and to determine which Brazilian beef sources put American consumers [at] risk," Tester's March 21, 2017, press release asserts. In a March 22 press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service announced additional pathogen testing of all raw beef and ready-­to-­eat products from Brazil. "Keeping food safe for American families is our top priority,” Acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Young was quoted as saying.…

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for "a Label on Processed Meat and Poultry Products Warning the Public that Frequent Consumption May Increase the Risk of Colorectal Cancer." Citing the International Agency for Research on Cancer's finding that smoked, salted and/or cured bacon, hot dogs, ham, sausages and similar products are "carcinogenic to humans," CSPI argues that epidemiological studies backed by "mechanistic evidence" support the alleged link between processed meat and an increased risk of colorectal cancer. The group also points to similar conclusions drawn by the World Cancer Research Fund International, American Institute for Cancer Research, Imperial College London and the American Cancer Society, the latter of which "advises the public to 'minimize consumption of processed meats such as bacon, sausage, luncheon meats, and hot dogs' based on evidence that the risk of colorectal cancer increases by 15…

A consumer has filed a proposed class action against Hormel Foods Corp. alleging the company misrepresents its meat products as natural and free of preservatives despite containing synthetic or genetically modified ingredients, including cultured celery powder, baking powder and maltodextrin. Phelps v. Hormel Foods Corp., No. 16-62411 (S.D. Fla., Ft. Lauderdale Div., filed October 11, 2016). The lawsuit, focused on Hormel’s Natural Choice® line of products, echoes similar claims in a complaint filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in June 2016. Details on that complaint appear in Issue 610 of this Update. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (‘USDA’) takes into account the level of processing in its policy on natural claims on food labeling,” the consumer complaint asserts. “The USDA allows such products to be labeled ‘natural’ when ‘(1) The product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, or chemical preservative [], or any other artificial…

A California federal court has granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. misleadingly advertises its food as free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) despite allegedly selling flour and corn tortillas with GMOs, using GMO soy in its cooking oils and serving meat and dairy products derived from animals fed GMO feed. Pappas v. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., No. 16-0612 (S.D. Cal., order entered August 31, 2016). Chipotle argued that reasonable consumers would not “equate ‘nonGMO ingredients’ with ingredients not derived from animals that have eaten genetically modified feed.” The plaintiff argued that the reasonable consumer standard was not applicable at the motion-to-dismiss stage in a fraud or deception case, but the court found that the standard could be used to hold the plaintiff’s allegations to be implausible. The court compared the plaintiff’s meat and dairy allegations to a case…

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