On Friday, the South Dakota Senate rejected SB 135, a country-of-origin-labeling bill that raised significant First Amendment concerns. The bill would have compelled South Dakota grocers to disclose the country-of-origin of beef sold in stores across the state.
Labeling requirements of this sort come with significant costs. According to one report, a similar (now-repealed) federal law imposed 2.6 billion dollars in compliance fees on businesses and their customers.
Most notably, country-of-origin-labeling laws of this kind are not based on health and safety concerns. Rather, the bill’s proponents argue that labeling requirements are justified by an amorphous “consumer right to know.” Yet, as Jonathan Adler has noted, the “right to know” has no limit. If consumer curiosity could serve as the basis for mandatory disclosure requirements, then government could require virtually every seller to “disclose” information at the government’s whim.
Thankfully, the First Amendment protects one’s right to remain silent just as it protects one’s right to speak. Thus, South Dakota legislators did well to stop the country-of-origin-labeling bill in its tracks. If they had not, a First Amendment lawsuit would have likely done the same.