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Federal Law Pre-empts California Meat Labeling Requirements

Thursday, February 18, 2016

(North American Meat Institute)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week upheld an August 2013, decision by a U.S. District Court permanently enjoining and restraining California officials from enforcing the slack fill label and packaging requirements of the state’s Business and Professional Code. The appellate court held that the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) preempt the slack fill requirements. “Slack fill” is the empty space between meat and poultry products and their packaging. After state enforcement actions, Del Real LLC, a California company and NAMI member that prepares, packages and sells fully cooked meat and poultry, challenged the California Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (CFPLA) arguing it is preempted for meat and poultry products regulated by the FMIA and PPIA.

The California Attorney General’s office contended the state law was consistent with the federal regulations. The Ninth Circuit, however, concluded FMIA and PPIA regulations do not otherwise address any subjects that could arguably be equivalent to the concept to slack fill. The case involves the “express preemption” of state law because a “clear and manifest purpose of Congress” exists. USDA regulations prohibit meat from being sold in packages “fill so as to be misleading.” Federal poultry regulations also prohibit the sale of any poultry product in “any container that is so made, formed or filled as to be misleading.”

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