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COOL Act Moves to U.S. District Court in Denver

An act that would require meat, chicken and fish to be sold with a label indicating their country of origin has made its way to district court after being struck down by the World Trade Organization.

The U.S. Country of Origin Labeling Act, also known as the “COOL Act,” which was found by WTO to be in violation of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, should continue to be enforced in the United States, say COOL Act advocates.

Proponents of the Act have teamed up to ask the U.S. District Court in Denver to overrule the WTO decision that struck down the COOL Act. Plaintiffs in the action against the U.S. government and WTO are USA Foundation, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund-United Stockgrowers Association (R-CALF) and a meat and vegetable distributor that goes by the name Melonhead.

Previously, the USA Foundation promoted the protection of domestic car and truck content and American craft designers.

The COOL Act requires meat, chicken and fish to be labeled so that consumers can tell the country of origin for those products. First adopted in 2002, COOL was never popular with U.S. neighbors and WTO appeals were eventually filed by Mexico and Canada.

A WTO panel consisting of representatives from Portugal, Pakistan and Switzerland found that COOL violates Tariffs and Trade because it imposes discriminatory burdens or barriers to Mexico and Canada.

Billings, MT-based R-CALF, however, does not see it that way. The cattlemen say they don’t see it as “a barrier to trade of any kind.” Instead, they say it fulfills a overwhelming consumer demand for information.

“Consumers could choose not to buy raspberries from Guatemala because of a bacterial problem there, or could refuse to buy Canadian beef because of a Mad Cow disease problem there,” R-CALF says.

They also say the Uruguay trade and tariff agreement, signed into law by President Clinton in 1994, states that U.S. law prevails in any trade conflict between the U.S. and other countries.

They point to Section 102(a)(1) of the Uruguay Round, which states, “No provision of any of the Uruguay Round Agreement, nor the application of any such provision to any person or circumstance, that is inconsistent with any law of the United States shall have effect.”

R-CALF says the WTO ruling was an attempt to intimidate the U.S., and harms American cattlemen because it means consumers may confuse foreign meat for domestic products.

Specifically named defendants in the lawsuit include U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

Vilsack and Kirk are accused of failing to protect and preserve U.S. sovereignty and exceeding their authority because, the plaintiffs say, they had “no legal right to amend or contravene this law by regulations or negotiations.”

The plaintiffs want a federal judge to order the trade representatives to cease and desist from negotiating with Canada and Mexico an amended and “watered-down” COOL, and they want the Secretary of Agriculture ordered to do his “legal duty.”

R-CALF is the second largest organization of U.S. cattlemen after the Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. NCBA views COOL as a marketing issue — not a food safety issue — to be worked out with the USA’s top two trading partners who together account for 59 percent of beef exports.

Mike Schultz, who chairs R-CALF’s COOL Committee, says the organization filed the lawsuit in order to “protect and preserve the right of all Americans to know the origins of their food.”

“For nearly eight years, the multinational meatpackers, the governments of Canada and Mexico, and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture fought to prevent U.S. citizens from knowing the origins of their food by vigorously opposing the implementation of the 2002 COOL law.

“But we cattle producers joined with consumers in that long battle and we finally prevailed. COOL went into effect in March of 2009. But, the governments of Canada and Mexico persisted and filed a complaint at the WTO, essentially asserting that U.S. citizens do not need to know where their food, particularly their meat from livestock, was born, raised and slaughtered.

“As U.S. citizens, we never gave up our right to continue governing ourselves under our U.S. Constitution, and we certainly didn’t grant the WTO authority to undermine our domestic laws. This lawsuit is necessary to force this Administration to stand up and defend our U.S. sovereignty by disavowing any authority the WTO claims over our nation’s ability to pass beneficial laws for U.S. citizens.”

© Food Safety News
  • Anne Tran

    This lawsuit will be supported by a majority of most people who live in the USA. Because everyone wants to:”protect and preserve the right of all Americans to know the origins of their food.” You will see more people in the supermarket to check for the origins of their food! If we cannot find it we would not buy it or when we see distributed by a company! we assume that the food is not a Product of USA!!!or surely “imported”!! So please spread out the news!!!!by all means!!

  • http://www.johnmunsell.com John Munsell

    I want to know the origin of food & products presented for my purchasing considerations. Anything from China, I will ardently avoid. Mexico is a close second. How about Viet Nam, India, and dozens of other nations which lack the environmental safeguards (herbicides, pesticides, etc) with which domestic producers must comply? Want more melamine, or foods treated with chemicals outlawed in the US?
    The whole idea of equivalency is a sham.
    This week, I closely read labels on boxed beef which we purchase from domestic producers. Some were labeled “Product of USA”, others were labeled “Product of USA & Canada”, etc. Point: COOL labeling CAN be done, and already is.
    However, a much more troubling aspect of this scenario is America’s acquiescing its historical sovereignty to WTO. When we are forced to request approval from WTO prior to implementing domestic laws, we’ve just turned over our future into the hands of nations, many of whom detest us.
    This is NOT merely an issue of international trade, or protectionism. The bottom line here is that America is willingly surrendering its right to make decisions, callously allowing our enemies to tell us what to do.
    Choose this day whom you will serve: a viable America, or unrestricted, seamless international trade.
    John Munsell

  • Ted

    I’ve never paid much attention to labels but I would like to know which beef is produced by R-CALF so I can boycott it.
    I do not wish to support R-CALF or it’s anti-farm activist partner Food & Water Watch in their systematic destruction of American agriculture. I will purchase NCBA beef. I would purchase Canadian beef before I would purchase anti-American R-CALF product. Even Argentinian beef is less damaging to our rural economy than anything R-CALF/F&WW has in mind for us.
    I don’t see the need to purchase anything from anyone calling themselves “Mellonheads”, either. Or from skinheads for that matter. So label that crap too.

    • S K Phelps51

      What Is Going To Be Done In Colorado An Any Other State That Is Using Candy For Food To Regulate Them.Surely This Is Only A Temporary Fix Till The Drought Is Over An The Wheat Prices An Hay Prices Go Down!!!!

  • Jon

    Agreed (for once) Doc Ted — labels are Great — and I want to purchase from R-CALF for better and more healthy reasons than Ted goes for the foreign.

  • Robert

    Robert Mcklemurry, a verrrry good cause to help American farmers keep their land to pay their mortgauge, taxes, ect and provide for America.