U.S. COUNTRY-OF-ORIGIN LABELING LAW IN DISPUTE
Forgive the bad pun, but many aren’t cool with COOL. The American government finds itself at an impasse with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over a substantial labeling law that could have long term effects on its North American trade. In October of 2014, the WTO ruled against the United States government’s country-of-origin labeling rule, also known as COOL. Country-of-origin labeling applies to meat packaging, which under current requirements must be labeled with the country where the animal was born, raised, and harvested. The WTO rejected the U.S. appeal of their ruling on Monday. The outrage over this rule comes primarily from our North American neighbors, Canada and Mexico. Because these countries sometimes send livestock to the U.S. to be fed out and processed, a cut of meat could theoretically be labeled “Born in Mexico, raised in Canada, slaughtered in the U.S.A.”. They have argued that this puts them at an unfair disadvantage in the U.S. market. It would not be out of the realm of possibility for Canada and Mexico, being naturally upset over what they perceive to be a slight, to retaliate by putting tariffs on dozens of U.S. products, which would greatly affect food, agriculture, and manufacturing. They could do this based on the WTO’s ruling, because the U.S. was the first to violate international trade obligations. World Trade Organization’s appellate body also made its ruling due to the idea that the rule “imposes a disproportionate burden in record-keeping and verification requirements on meat producers and processors.” Many U.S. industry groups have praised the WTO’s decision. The list includes the North American Meat Institute, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and others. They are jointly calling for the U.S. government to repeal COOL or drastically alter it. Linda Dempsey, COOL Reform Coalition chair and vice president of international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, in a press release:
"WTO-authorized retaliation by two of the largest U.S. trading partners could result in very substantial tariffs affecting multiple sectors of the U.S. economy, threatening the livelihoods of American families who depend on U.S. manufacturing.”
In the meantime, there are those who support COOL and are strongly opposed to the WTO’s ruling, such as the National Farmers Union and R-CALF USA. They believe that the issue is with the World Trade Organization, not with our country’s labeling laws. R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund) is a group that represents certain cattle producers on domestic and international trade and marketing issues. Their CEO, Bill Bullard, states:
“Our courts have found that COOL benefits consumers and that there is nothing wrong with our COOL law. The problem is with the WTO and Congress should be introducing legislation to fix the WTO, not strip consumers of their right to know where their food is produced.”
Regardless, members of Congress are beginning to act before any potential damage can be done. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas) introduced HR 2393 on Tuesday, which would repeal COOL requirements for beef, pork and poultry. This morning (Wednesday), the committee voted in favor of the repeal. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) has also stated that he will act swiftly on the WTO ruling. These labels were originally required as part of the Farm Bills in 2002 and 2008. They were rejected by the WTO in 2012, and again last year after they had been revised. Undoubtedly, consumers will be split on this issue. On one hand, there are those who are in favor of complete transparency when it comes to labeling. On the other hand, many view unnecessary labeling as a detriment to producers, and thus consumers who would feel the sting of any price increase as a result. How do you feel about this issue? Do you believe that Congress should act to repeal the law so that the U.S. will be in line with the World Trade Organization’s ruling, or do you think that labeling laws should remain as they currently stand?