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WTO Rules Against Mandatory COOL for Meat

The Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization on Friday ruled that U.S. country-of-origin labeling laws (COOL) discriminated against meat importers such as Canada and Mexico, but that U.S. consumers also have the right to know information on their food’s origin. The ruling will require the U.S. to amend its labeling laws to not be “a technical barrier to trade,” but still allows for country-of-origin labeling.

The U.S. began requiring the country of origin labels on meat in March 2009, which prompted the governments of Canada and Mexico–the two biggest importers of meat to the U.S.–to each independently appeal the law with the WTO, citing it as a technical trade barrier.

As it stands, the labeling laws give domestic beef, pork and chicken an unfair advantage over their imported counterparts in the marketplace, the WTO said. According to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the law costs the Canadian beef industry $400 million a year, or $90 per cattle head.

Similarly, according to Reuters, Mexican cattle is valued at $95 lower per head compared to U.S.-raised beef. And according to the Canadian Pork Council, the Canadian pork industry has lost $1.4 billion since the U.S.’s rules went into effect.

Officials in the U.S. and Canada both found reason to praise the WTO’s ruling:

“We are pleased with today’s ruling, which affirmed the United States’ right to adopt labeling requirements that provide information to American consumers about the meat they buy,” said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk in a statement. “The Appellate Body’s ruling confirms that families can still receive information on the origin of their meat and other food products when they shop for groceries.”

“CCA President Martin Unrau said by upholding the part of the panel ruling that confirmed the discriminatory nature of COOL, the Appellate Body’s final decision has provided an important victory for Canadian cattle producers and we are hopeful that the U.S. will amend the COOL legislation to eliminate the discrimination,” read a statement by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

While many U.S. consumer groups and some U.S. farmers supported the COOL laws, some large-scale farmers opposed them, as did the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Under the COOL laws, cattle raised in Canada or Mexico but slaughtered in the U.S. are labeled as being of “mixed origin.”

The U.S. could have up to 15 months to revise its COOL laws to meet the WTO’s standards.

© Food Safety News
  • Had a difficult time determining impact of this decision, until noted in another story that Canada’s problem with COOL is that it wants the label to reflect where the meat is processed, not where the animal originates.
    This isn’t a good decision. If a country uses unsustainable practices, or doesn’t have humane standards of care for livestock, we can’t use our consumer dollars to bring about change because we can’t know if the meat we’re buying comes from one country or another.
    If the WTO is going to focus on supporting rich agricultural interests over the environment, it’s no longer effective.

  • Kaye

    The USDA AMS did not set up the enforcement at retail as was in the law. here is the link to prove it: http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/01601-04-HY.pdf
    This is the reason the WTO ruled this way! It still can be fixed if the USDA AMS does the law correctly.