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WTO Strikes Down Country-of-Origin Labeling

Country-of-origin labeling (COOL), a 2002 idea that was written into law in the 2008 Farm Bill, is a technical barrier to free trade and therefore violates trade agreements the United States has with other countries including Mexico and Canada, the World Trade Organization ruled on Friday.

In other words, the U.S. has lost its COOL with the WTO. 

Country-of-origin labeling, which quickly became known as COOL, was a movement that grew like a prairie fire, but as soon as it became American law, first Canada and then Mexico went complaining to the WTO, saying the labeling discouraged imports of their foods.

While COOL was being implemented in the U.S., it’s been slowly working its way through the WTO appeal process of naming hearing panels and filing various written and oral arguments.

The final word from WTO is that COOL must go because it is a TBT, or “technical barrier to trade.”  The U.S. signed a treaty preventing technical barriers to trade in 1979.

In a statement, the U.S. Trade Representative said the White House office was happy meat was an exception from the decision.

“We are pleased that the panel affirmed the right of the United States to require country of origin labeling for meat products,” said Andrea Mead, press secretary for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “Although the panel disagreed with the specifics of how the United States designed those requirements, we remain committed to providing consumers with accurate and relevant information with respect to the origin of meat products that they buy at the retail level. In that regard we are considering all options, including appealing the panel’s decision.” 

 The U.S. has 60 days to appeal. The U.S. could ignore the WTO decision, but then Canada and Mexico could ask for tariffs to offset their losses.

Many U.S. agriculture and environmental groups are upset with the decision, which they say violates consumers’ right to know where their food comes from.

© Food Safety News
  • polly ducey

    This is an unfortunate outcome which can only be interpreted as a corporate decision against consumers. Lobbyists representing interests in China and other countries, from which tainted honey and products of unscrupulous producers are exported, often via false labeling after being repackaged in other countries.(see recent articles over pollen being removed from Chinese honey and sold as organic from various countries).
    When the product is unclean, or contaminated with environmental metals, or is not what it portends, then the country of origin deserves the scorn of consumers. The whole protectionist argument over Asian catfish, for example, now labeled with alternate nomenclature to protect American catfish producers and consumed by the tons as a clean and cheaper source of white fish, farm raised in Vietnam, is a prime example of proper COOL.
    Just as labeling identifies the exclusion of child labor in the manufacture of imported carpets, the consumer should have the choice.

  • John Chears

    Let Americans band together and demand (at the polls) that our leaders get us out of WTO .

  • Mary B DVM

    I absolutely agree with the above comment.
    We wouldn’t need source of origin labels if we could trust that foods are wholesome, actually are what they say they are, or produced in ecologically and socially sound ways. We don’t even have the ability to ensure that for US foods and even less ability with imported products. Consumers should at least have this small bit of information when deciding what to buy. These factors influence what I buy and I hope that the U.S. Trade representatives will negotiate with consumers best interests in mind.

  • Saturday, May 2, 2009
    U.S. GOVERNMENT SUES WESTLAND/HALLMARK MEAT OVER USDA CERTIFIED DEADSTOCK DOWNER COW SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM
    http://downercattle.blogspot.com/2009/05/us-government-sues-westlandhallmark.html
    http://downercattle.blogspot.com/
    Friday, November 18, 2011
    country-of-origin labeling law (COOL) violates U.S. obligations under WTO rules WT/DS384/R WT/DS386/R
    http://naiscoolyes.blogspot.com/2011/11/country-of-origin-labeling-law-cool.html
    Thursday, November 17, 2011
    International cattle ID and traceability: Competitive implications for the US
    Food Policy Volume 37, Issue 1, February 2012, Pages 31-40
    http://naiscoolyes.blogspot.com/2011/11/international-cattle-id-and.html
    Tuesday, November 15, 2011
    Alternative BSE Risk Assessment Methodology of Imported Beef and Beef Offal to Japan Journal of Veterinary Medical Science
    Advance Publication
    http://transmissiblespongiformencephalopathy.blogspot.com/2011/11/alternative-bse-risk-assessment.html
    Saturday, November 19, 2011
    Novel Prion Protein in BSE-affected Cattle, Switzerland
    http://transmissiblespongiformencephalopathy.blogspot.com/2011/11/novel-prion-protein-in-bse-affected.html
    TSS

  • As the requirement that the country of origin be shown on the label is a “technical barrier to trade” and that information is just a tiny part of the full traceability required by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), how will the WTO interpret the many, much more stringent requirements of the FSMA?
    Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund raised exactly that issue and pointed out the competitive advantage the FSMA would likely give the global food system over US producers.
    Unfortunately for FSN readers, that was one of the many FSMA issues that Food Safety News never covered. FSN’s “News Desk” report on this decision doesn’t indicate any change of heart on FSN’s part. Will it continue to fail to recognize the impact of the WTO has on food safety issues?
    And why is it only agriculture and environmental groups which are upset? Where are all those “consumer groups” we heard so much about during the run up to the FSMA?

  • c.f.

    We have Canada, Mexico, lobbyists for China, also other lobbyists and countries not specifically mentioned – CONTROLLING the people of the United States. Controlling what we eat? Taking our freedom of choice?
    More evidence of our leaders lack of concern for the well being of their constituents.
    Is it not a RIGHT to know what we are eating and where it came from?
    I am beginning to understand the ‘occupy’ movement more and more.
    At the polls? Sure. But how many people actually keep abreast of this type of thing slipping under the radar?
    What can be done? Afterall ‘we are what we eat’ !
    And we are being weakened by the imported poisons in our food.
    No problem with foods from Canada or Mexico, but we still have the RIGHT to know origin. Problems from China- you bet.
    They have repeatedly proven the wish to poison us. Children’s CANDY! HONEY? OLIVES! Lead in children’s toys—–and all the things we do not even know about.
    Someone please tell me where the backbone of the people of this country has gone?

  • CPG

    What a terribly retrograde step. I have just become used to exmining the labels of food and rejecting any seafood that originates in China. Now what? I enjoy seafood, but now, unless I find something that’s clearly marked “MADE IN THE USA” I just won’t buy and and will thus be deprived of my rights to full enjoyment of choice. What a crock! Maybe the US should leave the WTO. It’s a great trade organization [for everyone else]

  • As the requirement that the country of origin be shown on the label is a “technical barrier to trade” and that information is just a tiny part of the full traceability required by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), how will the WTO interpret the many, much more stringent requirements of the FSMA?
    Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund raised exactly that issue and pointed out the competitive advantage the FSMA would likely give the global food system over US producers.
    Unfortunately for FSN readers, that was one of the many FSMA issues that Food Safety News never covered. FSN’s “News Desk” report on this decision doesn’t indicate any change of heart on FSN’s part. Will it continue to fail to recognize the impact of the WTO has on food safety issues?
    And why is it only agriculture and environmental groups which are upset? Where are all those “consumer groups” we heard so much about during the run up to the FSMA?

  • cf

    I know many people who have concerns over this, but as I said earlier— it slips under the radar. What can be done to get more people actively contacting their representatives about this necessity? Or do most feel they will never be heard , so why bother?
    Proof being how few comments.
    Please keep informing us- Thank you

  • cf

    Yes CPG- deprived of ‘rights ‘ to full enjoyment of choice.
    Our rights are diminishing every day.
    Seafood and so much more.
    Have you read the other articles about adulterated foods?
    Most coming as ‘trade’.
    You are so correct-
    Keeps the other countries in the WTO ‘ healthy’ financially, while the health of people suffer.
    Honor? Truth? Responsibility?
    All the comments here will not matter —
    It is time ‘we the people’ make our concerns and wishes known to those who represent us.

  • AF

    Who is WTO? Do they buy groceries or put food on my table???

  • JO

    Yes, we should all boycott any food not labeled as to country of origin. And yes, we should get more educated and active in choosing politicians that will work to defend the constitution and the principles this country was founded on. Don’t be afraid to break out of the two party political system. Look for candidates that are open about their contempt for the trade agreements that are having the effect of destroying the sovereignty of our country. I recently took the step of enrolling in the GOP so I can have a choice to vote for such a politician who would get us out of these entangling international alliances. RP 2012!

  • Jeanine Raymond

    We have to create, somekind of barrier from, less than American standards for the quality of foods consumed in the US.Other countries do not have to meet the same food qualifications to grow and sell their products, as American producers do. Don’t have as much problem w/either, North or South American countries, just those that have to be transported from so far away. Why should we import for lesser quality than we produce, we’re in a vicious cycle!